Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Test Tube Meat

In keeping with the theme of the previous post, that is, how technology will help feed our planet's growing population in the future, I thought I would mention this article I recently came across at Wired News about Test Tube Meat.

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.

"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.

If successful, artificially grown meat could be tailored to be far healthier than any type of farm-grown meat. It's possible to stuff if full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, adjust the protein or texture to suit individual taste preferences and screen it for food-borne diseases.

Mmmmm, steak...

I’ve always thought the ultimate in food production would be growing meat artificially. It makes so much sense to produce something that is healthier, safer and vastly better for the environment, not to mention a means to help solve world hunger, as opposed to the barbaric practices that modern civilization currently goes through in getting meet to the supermarkets of the world.

Current practices produce poor quality meets, have greater risk of sickness and disease, the animals are pumped full of chemicals, they live their lives in disgusting conditions, and perhaps worst of all, consume vast amounts of energy.

And yet despite the potential of artificial meats, a quick read of the comments section of the Wired News article, and we can see that the world is still full of irrational idiots that are strongly against the idea. I wonder if they even begin to understand the problems facing modern civilization and the need for advanced solutions such as this?

George Bush is another Luddite who fails to see the importance of scientific and technological developments, as he recently vetoed the stem cell research bill, claiming that such research is immoral, and in doing so prohibiting research into potentially hugely important developments such as artificial meat or medical advances. I wonder, if Bush thinks researching stem cells to try and save lives (and possibly feed the starving) is immoral, then does he consider the death and destruction that he is directly responsible for in the Middle East to be moral?

Fortunately it seems that most of the American public is opposed to the bill veto, so it seems that much of the possibilities of stem cell research is becoming widely understood. And hopefully in the years ahead when artificial meat becomes commercialized, people will be able to make the mental adjustments to it’s benefits, just as they have with stem cell research.

And considering the likely economic ramifications of being able to artificially grow a superior meat, hopefully once the technology becomes commercialized world leaders will be able to see the logic in supporting such a technology. Given the financial benefits of such products, there may not have much of a choice.


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