5/20/11 - in vitro meat

In today's excerpt - research to discover ways to grow meat in a laboratory:

"After World War II, Dr. Willem van Eelen studied medicine at the University of Amsterdam. A professor showed the students how he had been able to get a piece of muscle tissue to grow in the laboratory. This demonstration inspired van Eelen to consider the possibility of growing edible meat without having to raise or slaughter animals. Imagine, he thought, protein-rich food that could be grown like crops, no matter what the climate or other environmental conditions, without killing any living creatures.

"If anything, the idea is more potent now. The world population was just more than two billion in 1940, and global warming was not a concern. Today the planet is home to three times as many people. According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock business accounts for about 18 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions—an even larger contribution than the global transportation sector. The organization expects worldwide meat consumption to nearly double between 2002 and 2050. ...

"Even Winston Churchill thought in vitro meat was a good idea.'Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under suitable medium,' he predicted in a 1932 book, Thoughts and Adventures. For most of the 20th century, however, few took the idea seriously.

"Utrecht scientists [have] tried to extract and develop embryonic stem cell lines from pigs. Such cells would, in normal conditions, be able to duplicate every day for long periods, meaning 10 cells could grow into a staggering amount of potential meat in just two months-more than 50,000 metric tons. 'Culturing embryonic stem cells would be ideal for this purpose since these cells have an (almost) infinite self-renewal capacity,' according to a 2009 report by the Utrecht team.

"In theory, one such cell line would be sufficient to literally feed the world. Until now, however, such cell lines have been developed only from mice, rats, rhesus monkeys and humans. Embryonic cells from farm animals have had a tendency to differentiate quickly—and of their own accord—into specialized cells. In the report, Utrecht team's porcine cells often veered toward 'a neural lineage'—brains, not bacon. ...

"Breakthroughs in all these areas will take money, of course. In 2008, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) offered $1 million to the first person or persons who could grow commercially viable chicken in a lab by 2012. But that was mainly a publicity stunt and no help to scientists who need money to get research done now. More seriously, the Dutch government recently pledged roughly €800,000 toward a new four-year project that would continue the stem cell research at Utrecht—and also initiate a study on the social and moral questions related to in vitro meat.

"Some see social acceptance as the biggest barrier of all to producing in vitro meat on a commercial scale. 'I've mentioned cultured meat to scientists, and they all think, 'great idea,' ' says Oxford's Tuomisto. 'When I talk to nonscientists, they are more afraid of it.' "


Jeffrey Bartholet


"Inside the Meat Lab"


Scientific American


June 2011


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