Pure Pedantry

In vitro Meat

The next steak you eat could be grown in the lab:

Edible, lab-grown ground chuck that smells and tastes just like the real thing might take a place next to Quorn at supermarkets in just a few years, thanks to some determined meat researchers. Scientists routinely grow small quantities of muscle cells in petri dishes for experiments, but now for the first time a concentrated effort is under way to mass-produce meat in this manner.

Henk Haagsman, a professor of meat sciences at Utrecht University, and his Dutch colleagues are working on growing artificial pork meat out of pig stem cells. They hope to grow a form of minced meat suitable for burgers, sausages and pizza toppings within the next few years.

Currently involved in identifying the type of stem cells that will multiply the most to create larger quantities of meat within a bioreactor, the team hopes to have concrete results by 2009. The 2 million euro ($2.5 million) Dutch-government-funded project began in April 2005. The work is one arm of a worldwide research effort focused on growing meat from cell cultures on an industrial scale.

“All of the technology exists today to make ground meat products in vitro,” says Paul Kosnik, vice president of engineering at Tissue Genesis in Hawaii. Kosnik is growing scaffold-free, self-assembled muscle. “We believe the goal of a processed meat product is attainable in the next five years if funding is available and the R&D is pursued aggressively.”

A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world’s population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out how to grow it on a large scale. Jason Matheny, a University of Maryland doctoral student and a director of New Harvest, a nonprofit organization that funds research on in vitro meat, believes the easiest way to create edible tissue is to grow “meat sheets,” which are layers of animal muscle and fat cells stretched out over large flat sheets made of either edible or removable material. The meat can then be ground up or stacked or rolled to get a thicker cut.

I know people are going to turn their noses up at this but I have several reasons for thinking this is a good idea.

1) Growing something in the lab gives significantly greater control over nutritional content. We could make meat healthier while we make it taste better.

2) Cattle farming is a huge strain on the environment. Test tube beef won’t be perfect — the energy to grow it has to come from somewhere — but it could be much better and much more efficient.

3) I do not personally feel this way, but a lot of people have ethical problems eating meat. I don’t know how you could have an ethical problem eating something that never developed a nervous system.

4) The phrase meat sheet is just awesome. Think of how many uses it has. “Yo Bob. You’re such a meat sheet. How often do you work out?” “Check out the meat sheets on that broad.” Endless I tell you, endless!

The proof is in the pudding though, or rather the meat. I want to see how it tastes. There will always be snobs who demand natural, but I am willing to at least give it a try.

Hat-tip: Neuro Nerd.

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    July 11, 2006

    “a professor of meat sciences”

    That line picks up all the pretty ladies.

  2. #2 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 11, 2006

    Wow. I had been toying with this as a possibility for about 10 years now, although leaving biology has pretty much made it little morer thana pipe dream. It’s really exciting to see these sorts of technologies becoming avaiable.

    More exciting, it’s cool to see pipe dreams for a better future taken seriously. :)

    If nothing else, it’ll probably make for a much higher grade of hotdog or bolonga.

  3. #3 univac
    July 11, 2006

    Fascinating. But what I’m wondering is, are the cells going to grow into specialized tissue, and just how big of a Meatwad can they make? I’m waiting for the World’s Largest Heart, or bicep burgers. Pseudopork is a pretty boring use of surreal (and potential supervillan) technology.

    Could neurons be mass-produced as well? Maybe they can make a giant brain, plug it into a computer, and put it in charge of things.

    The future is here.

  4. #4 Peter Znamenskiy
    July 11, 2006

    The proof is in the pudding though, or rather the meat. I want to see how it tastes.

    I imagine the texture will be very tricky to get right. But that’s where those advances in tissue engineering will come handy! Artificial lungs and hearts? Nah, in vitro beef is where the money is at!

  5. #5 Texas meat-wrangler
    July 11, 2006

    Endless possibilities: Lab cowboy, meat sheet wrangler, meat sheet butcher, free-range meat sheet grown in boutique labs, bull-sheet, and as a nod to Jurassic park, ‘dino-burger’.

  6. #6 aurelia
    July 11, 2006

    Do you really think that people will be able to grow lab meat more efficiently than animals grow their own bodies? Every mammalian cell I’ve ever cultured in the lab has required a tasty broth made of slaughterhouse by-product…not vegetarian friendly.

  7. #7 aurelia
    July 11, 2006

    I’m all for reducing suffering, but I think that working toward trees which produce nice meat fruits would be a better plan in the long run.