Scientists have created an edible steak made from human cells - here’s why

Thursday, 19th November 2020, 4:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th November 2020, 4:45 pm

A concept for a so-called ‘grow your own steak kit,’ using human cells and blood, has shown what a real piece of human-made steak looks like.

You may not want to eat it, though, as the concept was created as a thought-provoking art piece, in order to pose a question to the cultured meat industry.

Made by a group of American scientists, the Ouroboros Steak could, in theory, be grown by the diner in the comfort of their home, using their own cells, which are harvested from inside of the cheek. The steaks are then fed serum, derived from expired, donated blood.

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Growing culture of animal cell made meat

The art piece, which features bite size pieces of meat, is currently on display at the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition in London.

The prototypes were created without causing any harm to animals - something the creators are hoping makes a statement about the growing selection of cultured meat made from animal cells.

The meat industry is becoming increasingly reliant on fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is a protein rich growth liquid for cell cultures. FBS is derived from the blood of calf fetueses, and is often sourced when pregnant mothers are killed in the meat and dairy industries.

FBS is priced at around £300 to £700 per litre, with scientist Andrew Pelling telling Dezeen that fetal bovine serum “costs significant amounts of money and the lives of animals.”

He added, “Although some lab-grown meat companies are claiming to have solved this problem, to our knowledge no independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have validated these claims.

“As the lab-grown meat industry is developing rapidly, it is important to develop designs that expose some of its underlying constraints in order to see beyond the hype."

DIY human steak kits

Although no lab-grown meats are currently approved for sale anywhere in the world, the market is estimated to be worth $206 million, and expected to grow to $572 million by 2025.

The creators of the Ouroboros Steak envision the DIY steak kit allowing users to collect cells from their own cheek using a cotton swab and depositing them onto pre-grown scaffolds made from mushroom mycelium.

They are then stored in a warm environment for three months and fed human serum until the steak is fully grown. Industrial designer on the project, Grace Knight, argues that using human blood is cheaper and more sustainable than FBS.

She also highlights that this project is “technically not” cannibalism.

She adds,“People think that eating oneself is cannibalism, which technically this is not. Our design is scientifically and economically feasible but also ironic in many ways.

“We are not promoting 'eating ourselves' as a realistic solution that will fix humans' protein needs. We rather ask a question: what would be the sacrifices we need to make to be able to keep consuming meat at the pace that we are? In the future, who will be able to afford animal meat and who may have no other option than culturing meat from themselves?"

The concept currently on display was made using human cell cultures purchased for research and development from the American Tissue Culture Collection.

The display features a collection of amuse-bouche sized steaks laid out on a plate with a placemat and cutlery - a nod to American diner culture.