TEL AVIV/FRANKFURT —
Two years after scientists cooked up the first test tube beef hamburger, researchers in Israel are working on an even trickier recipe: the world's first lab-grown chicken.
Professor Amit Gefen, a bioengineer at Tel Aviv University, has begun a yearlong feasibility study into manufacturing chicken in a lab, funded by a nonprofit group called the Modern Agriculture Foundation that hopes "cultured meat" will one day replace the raising of animals for slaughter.
The foundation's co-founder, Shir Friedman, hopes to have "a recipe for how to culture chicken cells" produced by the end of the year.
The researchers say their task is more difficult than producing the first lab-grown hamburger, a $300,000 beef patty cooked up at Maastricht University in the Netherlands after five years of research financed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Rather than gathering small fibers of cow muscle into one big chunk of meat, Gefen will try to make a whole piece of chicken, starting from a single cell.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered a $1 million prize to the first lab able to use chicken cells to create commercially viable test tube meat, but the 2014 deadline passed without anyone laying claim.
Gefen, an expert in tissue engineering, said the plan is to culture chicken cells and let them divide and multiply. In previous research, he used growth factors extracted from tumors to stimulate cells, but this is not appropriate for food.
Demand for meat is expected to double between 2000 and 2050, when Earth's population is set to surpass nine billion, and proponents of growing meat in the lab say it is the only way to meet such demand without destroying the environment.
According to a study by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam, cultured meat would produce 96 percent less greenhouse gas, consume 82 to 96 percent less water and virtually eliminate land requirements needed to raise livestock.
"In the not so distant future, we will look back at how we used to raise cows and chickens and put so much effort into getting a small piece of meat," Friedman said.
Some big-name investors are entering the field. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Asia's wealthiest man, Li Ka-shing, have invested in Hampton Creek, which is creating plant-based substitutes for eggs.
Microsoft's Bill Gates and Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have backed a company called Beyond Meat. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has backed Modern Meadow, which creates food from tissue engineering.
Growing chicken in a lab would be a big step. It accounts for nearly a third of the world's total meat, second behind pork, which it is expected to overtake in the next decade, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.