How and Why are Scientists Growing Meat?

growing meat in lab
The world’s first lab-grown beef burger is held by Mark Post in 2013. Credit: David Parry / Reuters

Fake Meat?

For many years, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians have enjoyed “fake meat.” These meat substitutes use everything from soy beans to wheat gluten to create a “meaty” taste. While these meat alternatives have gotten tastier over the years, lab-grown meat might be the future of meat for everyone.

Lab-grown meat, which is also called cultured meat or cell-based meat, starts with just a few cells. The cells are taken from an animal like a chicken or cow and multiplied into edible meat. So even though a few tiny cells from your burger once came from a cow, just about all of the meat would be grown in a lab. It’s real meat! it just doesn’t come directly from an animal.

Lab-grown meat, which is also called cultured meat or cell-based meat, starts with just a few cells.

Companies working on lab-grown meat hope that, one day, animals will not have to be used for meat. This is exciting for both animal lovers and animal rights activists. It would mean that animals wouldn’t have to be killed for meat. But many others, including scientists, think that lab-grown meat could be an ideal option for environmental reasons. While many people around the world love the taste of meat and rely on its nutrients, raising and maintaining livestock uses an enormous amount of resources like water.

Scientists at NASA even think that growing meat in a lab could be important for future long-term space missions, because astronauts will need a source of food for an extended period of time.

Livestock raised for meat also damage the environment and contribute heavily to climate change. Part of this problem stems from cow farts (yes, really). Cow farts contain methane — a gas that has the ability to warm the planet. The fact that cows fart isn’t the problem, it’s just the truly huge number of cows being raised for meat that creates an issue. In addition to cow farts, the animal farming process produces huge amounts of other gases like carbon dioxide, which contribute to climate change.

Cow farts contain methane — a gas that has the ability to warm the planet.

How to Grow Meat?

You probably can’t grow meat in your kitchen, but scientists around the world are figuring out the best ways to grow meat in a lab. How do you actually grow meat?

You start out with a few cells from a real animal like a cow or chicken. These can be stem cells, or even cells that make up animal muscle or fat. Scientists are using many different types of cells to grow meat. Once they have the cells, they put them in a special mixture of nutrients like those that would be found in the animal’s body.

This special mixture allows the cells to multiply, so a few fat cells will become fat, a few muscle cells will become muscle, and stem cells can become different types of cells. This all takes place in a tank where scientists can control the temperature, oxygen levels, and other aspects.

Amazingly, scientists have successfully created lab-grown meat. But they’re still facing challenges. The meat cells need structure and something to grow on, or else you’d wind up with just be a messy pile of cells (not very tasty). And while scientists might be able to grow a small amount of meat in a lab, there are billions of people on our planet. It will be difficult to make a meat-growing process that can produce large amounts.

Scientists have successfully created lab-grown meat

Growing meat as nutritious as “real” meat also presents a challenge. Even if the meat is made up of real muscle cells, it needs specific proteins, vitamins, and sugars. This will be especially necessary and important to solve if lab-grown meat is to one day replace traditional meat.

This meatball was grown in a lab by Memphis Meats. Credit: Memphis Meats

We’re not there yet, but scientists are working hard to make real meat that’s tasty, nutritious, and doesn’t depend on animal farming.


Climate Change – Changing global climate patterns caused mostly by human activity that creates gases like carbon dioxide.

Cells – The smallest unit of biological life. Cells form tissues, tissues form organs, and so on.

Stem Cells – Cells that are able to develop into different types of specialized cells.

Cultured – When cells or microbes are grown in an artificial way.

Carbon Dioxide – A gas produced by breathing and burning carbon and organic material.

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  • Chelsea Gohd

    I’m an experienced science writer with bylines in, Live Science, Futurism, and many more. I also have experience as an educator and mentor. I write for Smore because children are curious and fascinated by everything around them. By putting science into their words, their language, you give kids the ability to really learn about the incredible world around them. By translating science into words that kids can really hold onto, you give them the ability to appreciate the world and be inspired to become a part of science and progress