We’ll Be Growing Christmas Turkeys in Labs by 2030

Test tube poultry could soon be coming to a supermarket near you.
November 28, 2016, 2:00pm

The fate of a Christmas Day turkey usually involves being overcooked and drowned in Bisto gravy. While that's probably not about to change (no matter how hard you try and stick to Delia's advice on basting), where we get our poultry from certainly could.

Forget about birds born and bred among the rolling fields and idyllic pastures, turkeys may soon be grown in test tubes.

READ MORE: Why the Meat Factories of the Future Will Look Like Breweries

And how soon? According to scientists, in less than 15 years.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have begun cultivating lab-grown turkey with cellular agriculture, a technique that uses cell cultures to grow animal products. In an interview published last week in MIT Technology Review, they predicted that by 2030, our Christmas dinner tables will feature birds that started life in petri dishes.

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Paul Mozdziak, poultry science professor and the guy leading the experiments, took satellite cells (similar to stem cells) from a small piece of turkey breast and manipulated them in a lab so that they multiplied to form muscle fibres. Mozdziak and his team then placed these cells in a mixture of glucose and amino acids to trick them into thinking they were still inside a turkey, and so would keep dividing.

But the price of a test tube turkey doesn't come cheap. At the moment, Mozdziak is only able to grow thin layers of muscle fibre—any bigger and nutrients aren't able to reach cells. To produce enough layers to make a whole turkey, the scientists would have to use more the $33,000 worth of growth serum.

However, Mozdziak told MIT Technology Review he believes that in the future, cultured meat will be more economical. He said: "Years from now, when people are [in] the grocery store trying to decide if they want to buy traditional versus cultivated meat, I am 100-percent sure that cultured meat is going to be just as cheap, if not cheaper."

The economics of cultured meat has so far been a stumbling block to mass production. When the first lab-grown burger was created in 2013, it cost more than $322,000 to produce.

Success in the cellular ag industry has also been limited to processed meat products, with research into growing whole cuts like beef steaks still ongoing.

READ MORE: Meet the Scientist Trying to Grow Steak in a Lab

But as cultured meat advances, advocates say it could help ease the burden that industrial food production places on the planet, as well as add resilience to farmers' businesses. While beef has the largest carbon footprint, the UK still consumes 10 million birds at Christmas alone, which means a lot of resources and energy could potentially be saved by test tube meat.

For Christmas 2016 at least, your turkey will have to be the real deal.