Israeli bioengineer launches project to culture chicken

The next chicken on your plate could be cultured. Credit: Michael Eccles via

A professor at Tel Aviv University has launched a research project studying the possibility of producing chicken meat in a lab. The study—funded by the non-profit group Modern Agriculture Foundation, which advocates for cultured meat—comes two years after the creation of the first lab-grown hamburger at Maastricht University via financing from Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 

According to Amit Gefen, a bioengineer with expertise in tissue engineering, and Modern Agriculture co-founder Shir Friedman, producing lab-grown chicken meat is more difficult than beef. In the hamburger case, researchers accumulated small fibers of a cow's muscle into a piece of meat. In the new project, Gefen plans to use a single cell to generate a piece of chicken by allowing the cell to divide and multiply.

A Reuters report on the year-long feasibility research explains that producing cultured meat could be valuable because global demand for meat is expected to double by 2050. Additionally, cultured meat could produce 96 percent less greenhouse gas, consume up 96 percent less water, and remove the requirement to raise livestock on land, according to a study by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam.

"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.

But creating cultured meat or chicken comes with a specific Jewish challenge: Is the meat kosher?

Rabbis debating this question within the context of the cultured hamburger in 2013 had varying opinions. As an article in Slate explained, some rabbis believe that the only way cultured meat could be kosher is if the cells come from an original animal whose meat was already kosher. Others point to the Jewish law that says a food substance could still be kosher if it has been contaminated by only an amount equal to or less than 1/60th of a non-kosher substance. In that way, a cell from a non-kosher animal, or one that has not been slaughtered in a kosher manner, could still yield kosher meat.

Given the eternal "two Jews, three opinions" pattern, it may take a while to arrive at a final ruling on this kashrut conundrum.

Posted on March 16, 2015 .