Chef's Spe­cials in 2050: In­sects and Ar­ti­fi­cial Meat

Ap­petis­ing in­sects, lab-grown burg­ers, and plant-based 'meat' in­clud­ing ar­ti­fi­cial blood. Global de­mand is sky­rock­et­ing, and cows sheep, pigs and chick­ens can't keep up. So sci­en­tists are look­ing for brand new sources of protein.

Science Illustrated - - FOOD -

On the din­ner ta­ble in front of you, there is a cheese­burger, a bowl of deep-fried chicken nuggets, and a delicious dessert in the shape of freshly baked choco­late cake. The fast food menu looks like some­thing you have tasted many times be­fore, but noth­ing on the ta­ble is quite what it seems to be.

The juicy burger does not come from a cow in a field. In­stead, all mus­cle fi­bres were grown in a cul­ture dish. And al­though the crisp nuggets feel com­pletely like chicken in your mouth, all their protein de­rives from soy­beans and peas. Fi­nally, tak­ing a closer look, you will find that the choco­late cake in­cludes meal­worms bred to taste of nuts.

The ex­am­ples are not pure imag­i­na­tion and fu­ture vi­sions. All three cour­ses al­ready ex­ist, cre­ated by vi­sion­ary sci­en­tists to find new meth­ods for mak­ing protein-rich food, and the rea­son is a sim­ple one. Pro­teins are some of the hu­man body’s most vi­tal nu­tri­ents, and meat is get­ting still more pop­u­lar as our pri­mary source of protein. How­ever, meat pro­duc­tion re­quires so many re­sources that ex­perts warn us that in a few decades, red meat will be in short sup­ply through­out the world.


Hu­man evo­lu­tion is very much as­so­ci­ated with meat. When our an­ces­tors be­gan to cook the an­i­mals they killed over a fire in­stead of con­sum­ing them raw, their bod­ies were sud­denly able to re­trieve more en­ergy from the meals. To­day, sci­en­tists be­lieve that the roasted meat was key for us to be able to de­velop rel­a­tively large brains, pro­vid­ing us with the ad­van­tage that placed hu­mans at the top of the food chain. But al­though meat his­tor­i­cally pro­vided us with great ad­van­tages, mod­ern meat pro­duc­tion is para­dox­i­cally de­vel­op­ing into a men­ace to the sur­vival of our species (and many oth­ers).

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral stud­ies, the de­mand for meat will keep on in­creas­ing in the years to come. Ac­cord­ing to the UN Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and So­cial Af­fairs, Earth’s pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to reach 9.7 bil­lion peo­ple in 2050, mean­ing that the gen­eral pro­duc­tion of food must grow 70 % to keep up.

In spite of the present pop­u­la­tion growth be­ing slower than it used to be for the past four decades, gen­eral liv­ing stan­dards are ex­pected to im­prove in the poor re­gions of the world, and this is very im­por­tant for food pro­duc­tion. Just about all meat con­sump­tion stud­ies show that the quan­tity of meat con­sumed by one per­son is closely re­lated with his fi­nances. In other words, peo­ple in

wealthy coun­tries con­sume more meat than peo­ple in poor na­tions.

Coun­tries such as In­dia and China are, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ex­plo­sive mid­dle class growth, and this in­creas­ing pros­per­ity is ex­pected to make In­di­ans and Chi­nese de­mand more meat, which would be a disas­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment. Al­ready now, the breed­ing of an­i­mals to be slaugh­tered is putting the world un­der pres­sure in three ways: green­house gas emis­sions, huge wa­ter con­sump­tion, and con­ver­sion of habi­tats to farm­land.

Meat pro­duc­tion is re­spon­si­ble for huge green­house gas emis­sions. Ac­cord­ing to FAO, meat pro­duc­tion ac­counts for about 14.5 % of to­tal hu­man-in­duced CO2 emis­sions, be­cause the an­i­mals are con­stantly emit­ting lots of meth­ane into the at­mos­phere. Meth­ane is a green­house gas, which is 23 times more pow­er­ful than CO . 2

Wa­ter con­sump­tion con­sti­tutes an­other prob­lem. More than 15,000 l of wa­ter go into mak­ing just 1 kg of beef. This is not due to the cow be­ing very thirsty, but rather that the an­i­mal’s feed re­quires huge quan­ti­ties of wa­ter to be man­u­fac­tured. Up to 99 % of the wa­ter go­ing into meat pro­duc­tion de­rives from an­i­mal feed. Ex­perts talk about “vir­tual wa­ter” – an ex­pres­sion cho­sen by Bri­tish ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor John An­thony Al­lan and cov­er­ing all the wa­ter go­ing into meat pro­duc­tion, but which is not di­rectly vis­i­ble, when buy­ing fil­let steak at the su­per­mar­ket.

The high wa­ter con­sump­tion is man­i­fested by the fact that ma­jor food pro­duc­ing na­tions such as the US, In­dia, and China in­creas­ingly have to tap into their ground wa­ter re­sources to keep the pro­duc­tion go­ing. Ac­cord­ing to NASA data, more than half of the 37 largest ground wa­ter reser­voirs in the world are shrink­ing. And the prob­lem is pe­ri­od­i­cally ag­gra­vated by drought, dur­ing which rain wa­ter can­not be used for wa­ter­ing pur­poses.

The third ma­jor meat pro­duc­tion prob­lem is space. To­day, the meat in­dus­try oc­cu­pies 70 % of all farm­land in the world. If you look at a world map, there are plenty of va­cant spa­ces for in­creas­ing food pro­duc­tion, but many of the po­ten­tial new fields are lo­cated in a few coun­tries, where the soil is not fit for pro­duc­ing the food re­quired.


The three prob­lems have one ba­sic cause: beef cat­tle and other do­mes­tic an­i­mals are very in­ef­fi­cient when it comes to con­vert­ing plant

protein into meat protein. In­stead of wast­ing space and wa­ter on the an­i­mals, it would be much more ef­fi­cient, if we just did it our­selves.

Con­se­quently, sci­en­tists and food en­gi­neers are try­ing to find man­u­fac­tur­ing meth­ods for fu­ture meat which are not de­pen­dent on liv­ing an­i­mals. One so­lu­tion could be grow­ing the meat in labs, in which cat­tle, sta­bles, and large feed fields have been boiled down into tis­sue sam­ples in cell cul­tures.

One of the pi­o­neers is Dutch sci­en­tist Mark Post, who at­tracted in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion in 2013, when he served the first lab-grown burger. By means of a biopsy – a tis­sue sam­ple from a liv­ing cow, Mark Post man­aged to ex­tract mus­cle stem cells, which are able to re­pro­duce very con­sid­er­ably in cell cul­tures in cul­ture dishes.

Mark Post fed the stem cells the same nu­tri­ents which they would have got­ten from the cow. Sub­se­quently, he de­prived the stem cells of the nu­tri­ents, which made them join just like mus­cle fi­bres. After eight weeks, he had enough to make a burger. In terms of taste, this early prototype was not very delicious – par­tic­u­larly be­cause it only con­sisted of mus­cle fi­bres and did not in­clude any fat tis­sue like an or­di­nary burger does. More­over, the cost was ex­treme. Due to all the work car­ried out by re­searchers in the lab to grow ev­ery one of the burger’s 20,000 mus­cle fi­bres, the price of this one burger was $340,000. How­ever, Mark Post is con­fi­dent that the method can

be scaled up to such ex­tents in the fu­ture that stem cell meat will be able to com­pete with the old-fash­ioned method con­cern­ing both taste and price.

Mark Post’s burger is made up of real mus­cle fi­bres from a cow, but other sci­en­tists are more in­ter­ested in plants as the means to pro­duce burger al­ter­na­tives. Com­pa­nies such as Im­pos­si­ble Foods and Be­yond Meat in the US have de­vel­oped plant-based meat prod­ucts, which con­sist of protein from soy­beans and peas, but their tastes and tex­tures are de­signed to mimic meat from chicken and cat­tle. The com­pa­nies have re­placed an­i­mal fat by co­conut oil, and a spe­cial blood mol­e­cule known as haem, which is ex­tracted from plants, pro­vides the dried protein pow­der with the au­then­tic taste of meat.

Apart from the en­vi­ron­men­tal gain of pro­duc­ing ar­ti­fi­cial meat based on plants, there is ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that the new plant-based food is a health­ier al­ter­na­tive to the real thing. In 2016, re­search by the Har­vard Med­i­cal School showed that the protein source is an im­por­tant health fac­tor. Peo­ple who are al­ready over­weight or smok­ers can ben­e­fit par­tic­u­larly from food based on plant protein, re­duc­ing their risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases. This is so be­cause real meat in­cludes sat­u­rated fat, which in­creases the choles­terol level in the blood.


The ar­ti­fi­cial meat prod­ucts will prob­a­bly be ac­com­pa­nied by other food in the fu­ture. And un­like stem cell burg­ers and ar­ti­fi­cial meat made of pea pow­der, this source of protein is per­fectly nat­u­ral.

The protein con­tent of in­sects such as bee­tles, lar­vae, lo­custs, and crick­ets is com­pa­ra­ble to that of beef and chicken, and in ad­di­tion, they also in­clude lots of healthy fatty acids, min­er­als, and amino acids. In com­par­i­son with cat­tle and chicken, the creepy-crawlies are much more ef­fi­cient protein fac­to­ries and can be bred at a frac­tion of the re­sources.

Ac­cord­ing to FAO, cat­tle re­quire 12 times more feed than crick­ets for the pro­duc­tion of the same quan­tity of protein. One im­por­tant rea­son for this is that, un­like cat­tle and pigs, in­sects are cold-blooded crea­tures. Do­mes­tic an­i­mals con­sume lost of en­ergy from the food to keep warmer than their sur­round­ings, but that is not nec­es­sary for the cold­blooded in­sects.

UN ex­perts even es­ti­mate that for ev­ery hectare of farm­land used to breed and feed

meal­worms, 10 hectares are re­quired to pro­duce the same quan­tity of cat­tle protein. More­over, in­sects pro­duce much less am­mo­nia and meth­ane gas via defe­ca­tion.


Per­haps you hate the thought of hav­ing to chew on ar­ti­fi­cial burg­ers or in­sects, but the new protein sources could also in­volve brand new culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences.

Sci­en­tists do not only get ideas for the cui­sine of the fu­ture among ex­ist­ing an­i­mal species. The pos­si­bil­ity of poach­ing on the pre­serves of Juras­sic Park and re­viv­ing ex­tinct an­i­mal species could per­haps be re­al­ized by means of gene tech­nol­ogy. In 2015, sci­en­tists from the US uni­ver­si­ties of Har­vard and Yale man­aged to use gene mod­i­fi­ca­tion to cre­ate a chicken em­bryo with a di­nosaur snout in­stead of a beak.

With the ex­is­tence of pre­served mu­seum pieces of other ex­tinct species such a the dodo, it is rea­son­able to imag­ine that sci­en­tists could se­quence the com­plete genome of the bird.

When com­bined with stem- cell tech­nol­ogy, the an­i­mal’s meat could the­o­ret­i­cally be recre­ated in the lab, paving the way for ex­otic spe­cial­i­ties such as dodo nuggets or mam­moth steaks in the fu­ture.

Ter­mites: Taste like car­rots or pineap­ple. They in­clude iron, zinc, man­ganese, our which can boost im­mune sys­tem.

larva: Red palm wee­vil Tastes of co­conut. Con­tains just as much protein as eggs.

Ar­ti­fi­cial chicken: The plant-based chicken gets its protein from both peas and soy­beans. in The meat is rich cal­cium and iron. burger: Juicy veg­e­tar­ian The about the same burger in­cludes and iron as quan­tity of protein no choles­terol, the real thing,...

Blood mol­e­cule makes plant burger taste of meat spice pro­vid­ing Haem is the se­cret the taste of plant burg­ers with mol­e­cule meat and colour. The atom at­tached con­sists of one iron The iron to por­phyrin pig­ment. metal­lic taste to adds that dis­tinct in...

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