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The petri dish dinner party – a solution served up by science

Posted by on October 4, 2013

Philippa Skett is an intern at the Society of Biology helping out with Biology Week 2013. This year in partnership with the Global Food Security programme we have developed classroom resources about where our food comes from, and just how many resources our food production needs. 

The concept of food security may be an alien one to many, although it is also a concept that applies to every single person on the planet. Total food security is the state in which all people will have access to enough food to survive, with the food being nutritious enough to ensure everyone is healthy.

Countries such as the US, the UK and those elsewhere in Europe have access to nearly twice as much food as is realistically required to satisfy their nutrition demands, whilst simultaneously there are still one billion malnourished people in the world. Total food security is therefore not possible as of yet, but can it be in the future?

The population is set to reach 9 billion by 2050, so with even more mouths to feed solutions are needed as soon as possible.  Educating children about where their food comes from, what resources go into their food eat and how they can be reduced is a crucial first step towards this, because making sure there is enough food to go around is a responsibility that will fall into their laps sooner rather than later.

So what solutions are there? There is a whole plethora of concepts that scientists, consumers and farmers need to adopt to help slowly resolve this situation. One exciting potential answer science has provided recently was the synthetic burger. This lab-grown bundle of muscle fibres could address some of the land and resource use issues that surround modern beef production.

The burger, grown in a petri dish rather than a paddock (Photo credit:

Dr Mark Post from Maastricht University, one of the scientists who helped create the $250,000 patty, states that this cultivated culinary product reduces the need for land and water by 90 percent and overall energy use by 70 percent.

Producing these burgers on a large scale is still not possible as of yet, but could doing so in the future reduce the strain food consumption demands will place on current resources and still ensure food security is a global possibility? Or are there simply too many problems people may find with eating meat grown in a laboratory instead of a field?

The only thing we know for sure is that something has got to give if global food security is going to remain a realistic goal, and it is down to our generation and the next to make sure something happens. Educating these young minds is the first step to tackling this global issue, and hopefully during Biology Week this year we can aid this invaluable process and inspire them to think up some novel solutions of their own.

If you would like your school to get involved with the workshops, contact Dr Rebecca Nesbit for more information or to request food security workshop resources suitable for a selection of primary and secondary school age groups. 

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