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Friday, December 4, 2009

More on In Vitro Meat

by Andrew Schneider

Scientists Create Lab-Grown Pork; Bacon Industry Unmoved
Scientists in the Netherlands have created pig in a test tube. Debate has already started on whether it will save the world, or just throw vegetarians into a quandary.

In the meantime, the researchers may be in line for a celebratory feast: They could be the new front-runners for a million-dollar prize offered by a major animal rights group.

The research team, funded by a major sausage maker and the Dutch government, used cells from a live pig to grow pork muscle tissue in a Petri dish. After extracting cells called myoblasts from the muscle of a live pig, the scientists then incubated the myoblasts in a nutrient solution, which allowed the cells to multiply and create muscle.

The implications of this breakthrough in "in vitro meat," as it's sometimes called, are potentially enormous.

Physiology professor Mark Post of Eindhoven University, who led the research team, believes it could make it possible to end world hunger. "You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals," he told the media in the United Kingdom.

Making meat in a laboratory instead of a feed lot could also reduce climate change by eliminating billions of tons of methane and other greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals across the globe.

Dutchman Mark Post, a professor of physiology and expert in biomedical engineering, is working on generating meat in his lab at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Of course, all these potential boons depend on whether consumers think the man-made meat is tasty enough to eat. And even the scientists had to admit to reporters that they don't know if their creation is flavorsome, because laboratory regulations forbid them from tasting anything they create.

It certainly doesn't sound very appetizing. It's hard to imagine ordering up eggs and "wasted muscle tissue," which is how Post described his creation.

Nonetheless, the professor believes that steps can be taken to give the lab-grown meat a more marketable, steak-like consistency.

"We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there," Post told reporters. "This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it." He and his colleagues predict that within five years, sausages and other pig products made from laboratory meat could be on the market.

At this point, the U.S. pork industry doesn't sound too alarmed at the prospect of being rendered obsolete by a lab beaker.
Cindy Cunningham, an officer of the National Pork Council, called the Dutch research "very interesting." But she noted that beyond the need to take the technology to a commercial level capable of supplying enough product to replace traditionally grown meat, USDA and FDA labeling issues would have to be worked out.

"The question of consumer demand would then be the driving factor," Cunningham said.

On that end, greater marketing savvy would help. (First order of business: come up with a better label than "in vitro meat.")

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is also doing its part to create additional financial incentives for researchers. Last year, the group announced it would pay $1 million to anyone who came up with a way to produce large quantities of test-tube-spawned meat at competitive prices by 2012.

"Cells are capable of multiplying so many times in culture that, in theory, a single cell could be used to produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year," says New Harvest, a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes.

The group's Web site predicts that the resulting cells will then be harvested, seasoned, cooked and consumed as a boneless, processed meat, such as sausage, hamburger or chicken nuggets.

Today, pig. Can foie gras be far behind?

See previous post on the topic: Eight ways in vitro meat will change our lives

1 comment:

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