02 December 2009

Pork from a test tube: no longer smeared, but still smells

Researchers at the University of Eindhoven (Netherlands), working under the guidance of physiology professor Mark Post, isolated myoblasts (young muscle cells capable of developing into muscle fiber) from a live pig, and obtained something remotely resembling minced meat.

Professor Post states that growing "meat" in the laboratory will allow growing from the cells of one animal an amount of meat equivalent to the amount of meat of millions of pigs, which will not only reduce the suffering of animals, but also have a positive impact on the environment polluted by nitrogen-rich effluents of pig farms. The post is sure that if the final product of their work does not differ in appearance and taste from meat, people will be happy to buy it.

At the moment, the product is a shapeless, moist, unappetizing mass, but researchers are already working on methods of training and stretching muscle fibers, which should give the laboratory meat a more familiar appearance. According to Post, the cell mass obtained in the laboratory resembles depleted muscle tissue, but he is confident that in the future the structure of the product will be improved. The rules of the laboratory prohibit employees from trying the product, so while the taste qualities of laboratory "meat" are unknown.

In addition to the Dutch government, the Dutch company Stegeman, which specializes in the production of sausage products, owned by the food industry giant Sara Lee, participated in the financing of the project.

Other groups of researchers are also working in this direction. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States finances the work on growing fish fillets and turkey meat from cages. In the future, NASA plans to use these products as renewable food for astronauts making long flights in outer space. (Details about this crazy idea can be found in the article "Test Tube Steak".)

Vegetarian and "ecological" organizations expressed different opinions about the upcoming appearance of artificial meat on the shelves. A representative of one of the most extremist groups of animal rights defenders, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – "People for the ethical treatment of Animals") said that as soon as meat ceases to be the flesh of a slaughtered animal, all ethical issues will automatically disappear. Last year, PETA even announced a million-dollar prize for a person or a group of scientists who will develop a commercially viable lab-cultivated meat product. Vegetarians were more restrained. For example, a representative of the Vegetarian Community noted that the main predictable problems are questions about the labeling of such a product, since it will be very difficult to label products containing artificial meat in such a way as to arouse the confidence of scrupulous vegetarians.

Developers (and presumably sausage manufacturers) hope that artificially grown meat will be suitable for adding to sausages in five years.

It seems that their optimism is greatly exaggerated: like many previous researchers who received experimental samples of meat semi-finished products from stem cells, Post and his comrades grew myoblasts in an environment containing nutrients and hormones isolated from the blood of innocently killed calf embryos. Surely the activists from PETA and the scrupulous vegetarians did not think about it. But the main thing is not the opinion of extremists, but the cost of the product: such a pseudo–meat should cost more than gold. True, Dutch researchers claim that they plan to replace growth factors and other proteins from embryonic blood serum with artificially synthesized analogues, but if such an approach reduces the cost of artificial meat production, then not by two or three orders of magnitude or even 10 times. So sausages labeled "do not contain artificial meat" will most likely not appear in the coming years, or even decades.

A Healthy Skeptic
Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru based on the materials of PhysOrg: Pork meat grown in the laboratory.


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