This has got to be the strangest question I've ever asked.

I was looking at lab grown meat and thought - I've never grown these cells in a lab - but I sure have grown bacteria! Currently though, this meat is still quite expensive. This surprised me, since bacteria grow in petri dishes so happily.

I was wondering, could I make a burger patty out of bacteria? I would grow them in a petri dish and then fry them. Then I would build a burger. My question is:

  1. Is it feasible economically to grow this much bacteria? (how much would a patty cost?)
  2. Are bacteria nutritious?
  3. What would it taste like?

I would prefer a very hard science answer.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to be a world-building question. It would probably be better off on another stack site, probably the biology one. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 26, 2021 at 10:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This isn't a hard science question, more of a science-based. You can make bacteria express any genes you want, make any proteins you want. Yeast (and bacteria) are already in much of the food we eat, and fermentation is using bacteria to modify the foods we eat. Pure bacteria aren't very satisfying, though, but mixed with other materials and flavorants they won't even be noticed. But bacteria still need to consume food to grow, and unless you're getting something OUT of it or using something people CAN'T eat to grow them, the stock materials will still retain more calories. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 26, 2021 at 12:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You may want to consider giving some world-building context to your question (so on my world there is a scarcity of...), so we understand where you're coming from. Otherwise this is just a biology question. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 26, 2021 at 12:55
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ have you ever eaten yogurt? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 26, 2021 at 14:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Say cheese 🧀😋 $\endgroup$
    – edgerunner
    Aug 26, 2021 at 17:49

3 Answers 3



A researchgate article about using bacteria (in the form of microbial mats) for food

Best of all is, you don't even have to form them into patties yourself, the microbial mats will do the self-organization for you!

Here is another example of some Finnish scientists making a tofu-like substance from bacteria.

Wiki link for Microbial Mats

Sorry for making this a mostly links-only answer, but I am very far from an expert in the field itself, and adding the usual visual images would ruin your appetite from,.... well, for days

  • $\begingroup$ p.s. this is a very old concept in scifi: recommended reading: sites.google.com/site/asimovgoodtaste $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 26, 2021 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ Technically I think they grew yeast in that story, not bacteria. $\endgroup$ Aug 26, 2021 at 19:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RossPresser most of us would be really hard pressed to know the difference between a Bacterium, Archaea, Algae, Fungi, Yeast, or a Protean. Good grief, I don't think I would even know a Prion from a Virus! Microscopic nasty is microscopic nasty, regardless of its exact clan affiliation. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 26, 2021 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think the difference was very important to the people in the story because they were growing it. They'd be very conscious of the wrong microbe showing up in their vat. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2021 at 13:48

Consider it as an addendum for PcMan answer, mostly on economic feasibility.

At uni, we did grow E. Coli and in the context of the question, it can be said we had a funny substrate for their happy growth. The substrate was meat soup(sort of, how it was made), we even joked about tasting it, but yeah didn't happen, the thing was like 20 y.o. stuff in the bottles, color like soy sauce. We diluted it, added salt, and used it to grow night cultures(concentrations of bacterias like 1e8/cm3, or something, forgot it), made agar with it for Petri dishes.

In that sense economical feasibility, if you rob an old soviet lab for this magical stuff it can be economically feasible, even if you are better off with just drinking it.

But otherwise, it depends on different factors.

The efficiency of a process, they do not eat all of it because of their own byproducts, other strains of different stuff start to catch up with those in a few days later and all that.

So for a full conversion of your substrate, you lose energy anyway in such conversion, but additionally, for that, you have other means on top to keep your tasty strain of bacterias to be a predominant inhabitant of a substrate, and you have to remove their byproducts (a result of metabolism) for them to enjoy it further.

Removing byproducts and keeping culture to stay monoculture is an effort in the first place, but how big these efforts are - it differs depending on what is grown and how it is grown.

In that sense bacterial mats(SCOBY) like the kombucha thing it super easy - one removes byproducts by drinking it and replenishes it with tea and sugar. Sometimes it can get infected, just peal layer off, cut off that piece and you are done. If one keeps cleanliness while operation on a level of "wash your hands", do not touch the thing - it enough to not have such problems at all.

Keeping E. coli to be a single strand is also relatively simple, just your regular lab procedures seed it to get a colony, grow that colony. Or like that E. coli long-term evolution experiment on their site they have their working procedure but basically, it is done by having backup copies in a freezer and detecting contamination.

  • but with a petri dish, you know once you open it the next day, remove the lid, it will go bad in few days(3-4-5) due to mold or something strange. Even if you do not open it it will take longer but it will happen. To prevent reduce chances it needs a cleanroom environment, we had regular ones cuz operation procedures are less expensive and we didn't need those for what we did in the way we did. But that meat growth may require more strict conditions.

With yeast it is also easy to remove byproducts, also in line with a drink-it behavior, you know, and that higher C2H5OH is their protective mechanism to keep themselves the only consumers of the substrate. (if they are in the anaerobic mode, for mass aerobic mode is preferable, more mass of result product, but things may or may not become a bit harder)

All those more or less are liquid states, cultures have some tricks this or another way because they are alpha predators on that microbiological level, more or less.

But grow meat and recreate texture at the same time protecting it from spoiling, because any bacteria or mold wants to corrupt eat it as well, so as its substrate - it is a situation similar to sheep against wolves - that can be a challenge. Mammal bodies can do that because of the immune system and skin and few other tricks. Challenge looks like 10x compared to a regular lab situation and culture.

  • and here I would like to be more specific, but I do not know what they do to grow meat things.

So your efforts go up as well, decreasing the economic feasibility.

energy, nutritional value

13.91 MJ/kg energy value for dry yeast, and conversion ratio plant matter and such to yeast is like around 28%, as I see from nonenglish sources, not super credible as well, for English references it may be useful to look up "Yeast cow feed" or something, it used as making supplementary feed for cows and such.

Dry meat nutrition value is about the same https://www.eatthismuch.com/food/nutrition/dry-meat,2118470/

So if you have similar water content as the nutritional situation it can be 1:1, which is somewhat expected.

So in a sense of energy, substrate conversion can be around 30%, and if we take sugar as a price gauge for a substrate which is 1/10 of meat price then as result it is possible to have endproduct of 0.3 prices of meat.

One needs macro and microelements to grow stuff, not a big deal, look aquaponics prices for that, not expensive stuff.

So the question of economic feasibility lays in - is it possible to squeeze the procedures in below that 0.7 leftover prices, for the strain of a culture you need for the purpose. And it heavily depends on that culture and procedures it requires. For some random cultures, it can be easy, with others it clearly can be expensive on a lab scale. As for industrial-scale, there is some potential, but it heavily depends on specifics.

  1. It depends on what you are ready to eat, but yes it can be cheaper. Try worms btw, the red worms especially. Paper(cardboard) and leaves are what they need.

  2. Yes, it is just a biological matter, it can have different digestive values due to different factors, but we are made of pretty much the same stuff energy-wise. Autolysis can be your friend in some cases, for yeast as an example.

  3. It depends on what it is. (Here should be a screenshot from soy sauce factory, their fermenting barrels, and a guy tasting it happily(kinda, he is japan, he had strange tasting/thinking face), without any explanation to it, but ... - yeah definitely meme material from the future).


You can with current non-research levels of technology. We already have recipes that call for yeast (in quantities beyond just adding texture to bread). See lactation cookie recipes, e.g., https://www.howsweeteats.com/2015/02/lactation-cookies/ . You can purchase bacteria in the same way you can purchase packets of yeast: https://pondperfections.com/product/orb-3-bacteria-packet/ . To go from cookies to patties, you'll need a recipe with more bacteria and more binders, perhaps eggs, gum arabic, or emulate hardtack. Ask cooking SE.


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