(CNN) -- On Monday, three lucky diners nibbled a $325,000 burger -- not in the name of luxury but in the name of science, animal rights and sustainability. The meat was grown in a lab.
This in-vitro hamburger is "cultured" in many different ways: It's the product of human ingenuity, it's considerate of humans, animals and the planet, and it's produced through growing cells.
Tasters declared the hamburger a little dry, and you won't be able to buy one any time soon. But that's not the point: It's a proof of concept prototype -- evidence that it is physically possible to produce meat through cell culture.
It's a step toward a day when meat can be produced in a cost-effective, time-efficient and completely animal-free manner.
The in-vitro hamburger was ready to eat but perhaps a little dry when unveiled for some tasters.
By collecting cells from healthy animals and culturing them in a sterile environment, we can grow animal muscle and bypass slaughter and inhumane treatment. We can establish a safer food supply by avoiding conditions that promote the spread of disease. And we can take a major step toward improving our impact on the environment, including a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
But perhaps the most radical aspect of cultured meat is that its development has been nearly entirely philanthropic, funded largely by individual donors and foundations. The funding behind the creation of this cultured hamburger did not come from a private company or a government but from the forward-thinking co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin. He donated dollars to seek a novel and transformative solution to the world's meat problem.
Cows are on their way to be killed. Cultured meat would eliminate the need for slaughtering animals.
This hamburger was developed by Mark Post, a Dutch researcher at the University of Maastricht. The nonprofit organization New Harvest also has been instrumental in advancing cultured meat. By funding scientific research directly, using donations from individuals and advising both the Dutch government and Brin's foundation to support cultured meat research, New Harvest has been a key player in keeping development of this new technology cooperative and a concerted worldwide effort.
All of this research remains in the public domain. The implications of it being available to all are very promising.
At first glance, cultured meat might seem to be a homogenizing of our food choices. But beer is a biotech product with many tastes and types. How it is produced is public information. And that makes the business of beer vastly different from the business of, say, transgenic crops.
The production of beer requires living organisms -- yeast -- and nourishment for those organisms -- grain. How these elements come together with others to make beer is straightforward in theory, and nuanced in practice. The products are varied and distinct.
Cultured meat production is extremely similar. Explained simply, all that is required is a cell line and nourishment for those cells. How the cells are grown, and under what conditions, are adjustable. The potential variety of materials and processes will allow cultured meat to take on many distinctly unique forms, flavors and textures.