Thursday, December 22, 2005

In Vitro Meat

In July, scientists at the University of Maryland announced the development of bioengineering techniques that could be used to mass-produce a new food for public consumption: meat that is grown in incubators.

The process works by taking stem cells from a biopsy of a live animal (or a piece of flesh from a slaughtered animal) and putting them in a three-dimensional growth medium - a sort of scaffolding made of proteins. Bathed in a nutritional mix of glucose, amino acids and minerals, the stem cells multiply and differentiate into muscle cells, which eventually form muscle fibers. Those fibers are then harvested for a minced-meat product.

But if in vitro meat becomes viable, the environmental and ethical consequences could be profound. The thought of beef grown in the lab may turn your stomach, but in vitro meat would avoid many of the downsides of factory farming, most notably pollution: in the United States, livestock produce 1.4 billion tons of waste each year. What's more, once a meat-cell culture exists, it could function the way a yeast or yogurt culture does, so that meat growers wouldn't need to use a new animal for each set of starter cells - and the meat industry would no longer be dependent on slaughtering animals.
We are still a long ways off but I like the direction they are going. To be able to eat meat without slaughter, sounds good to me.

Via New York Time Mag: Year in Ideas

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