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Maastricht team presents first test tube burger in London

Scientists from the University of Maastricht have unveiled their long-awaited test tube burger, made from the muscle cells of cows. Two taste testers partook of the patty in London and gave their first impressions.

Several years of work and 250,000 euros ($332,000) later, the University of Maastricht group, led by Professor Mark Post, had already cleared the biggest hurdle for their research: they proved they could make meat in a laboratory from cow stem cells. On Monday, an even bigger question loomed: how did it taste? Not all that bad, apparently.

"I was expecting the texture to be more soft," Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler told reporters at the taste testing in London.

"The consistency is perfect [but] I miss salt and pepper," Rueztler added.

US-based food author Josh Schonwald acted as the second tester and reportedly gave a similar reaction.

Post's team developed the meat from the muscle cells of organic cows. They then grew small "strands" of beef by placing the cells into a nutrient solution, which helped them develop into muscle tissue. Producing one 140 gram (5 ounce) beef patty required about 20,000 strands of meat. To top if off, the scientists added salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron to give the test-tube beef the correct texture and flavor.

"For the burger to succeed it has to look, feel and taste like the real thing," Post said, adding that researchers hadn't altered the cells in any way.

Activists back project

The project has gained backing from animal activists who want to the curb the number of animals slaughtered for food. Monday's event revealed one of the project's financial backers as Sergey Brin, one of Google's co-founders, who reportedly wanted to advance Post's research out of concern for animal welfare.

"When technology seems like it is on the cusp of viability and if it succeeds there, it can be really transformative for the world," Brin said in a video message, according to the news agency AFP.

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also gave its support to the research.

"As long as there's anybody who's willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this," PETA's president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk, told the Associated Press news agency.

In the lead up to the unveiling, Post expressed his team's hope that its findings could help curb climate change and the strain on the world's resources.

"I hope [our project] will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces," Post said before the unveiling on Monday.

The growing number of meat consumers globally - mostly in developing countries - threatens to put a greater strain on livestock and the environment. By 2050, the rate of meat production is expected to double worldwide, according to figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

kms/dr (AP, AFP)