In Vitro Meat: Will 'Frankenfood' Save The Planet Or Just Gross Out Consumers? (VIDEO)
Hi everybody! Cara Santa Maria here.
Would you eat a hamburger grown in a petri dish? How would you feel if your breakfast sausage came from the lab? Well, scientists are getting close to making this a reality. It's called in vitro meat, and Dutch biologist Mark Post is pretty confident that he can put a lab-grown hamburger on your plate by the end of the year.
The stakes are high. Right now, 40 billion animals are killed per year in the US alone. One million chickens are killed per hour. Over one-fourth of the total land surface of the earth is used for livestock grazing (or non-grazing, like in factory farms). Global meat production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gasses. That's more than every car, bus, train, and airplane produces combined. And its not like conventional meat production is even efficient. To make 15 grams of edible meat, we have to feed that animal 100 grams of vegetable protein. Is that sustainable with a growing world population? You do the math.
We know how to make the meat. All it takes is a biopsy of muscle cells from a living cow, chicken...whatever...called myoblasts. The cells are then grown in a nutrient-rich culture medium that delivers them all the goods that they would get in vivo--that is, if they were still inside the animal. But that's not all. They also have to grow on an edible scaffolding which would allow them to organize into 3-D muscle fibers that can stretch and bend. Essentially, they need to be able to exercise like traditional muscle, because of course, that's what meat is.
Lots of labs are working on this, and the miniscule meat bits that they have been able to produce so far are kind of grey and flavorless. But that's what happens when you grow a thin sheet of muscle cells all by themselves. The holy grail of in vitro meat will be to make a product that simulates the complexity of muscle in a living animal. Truth is, that's probably not in the cards just yet. The first available in vitro meat will likely be a combination of muscle fibers, fat cells (for flavor) and blood vessels (for color and iron). They'll be grown separately and then mixed together. But I honestly don't see that being a problem. As Americans, we're kind of okay with the chicken nugget and hot dog culture we've grown to know and love.
Growing in vitro meat would use up to 60 percent less energy, emit up to 95 percent less greenhouse gas, and use 98 percent less land than conventionally grown meat. The meat would be cleaner (no more pesky E. coli or Salmonella), grown without the use of hormones or antibiotics, and we could even engineer it to be high in healthy omegas or other nutrients. What's more, we could eat weird stuff, like zebra meat or hammerhead shark, since animals don't have to die...they only have to donate a few cells. One day, we may even be able to make tyrannosaurus burgers. I mean, that's really cool.
What do you think? I hope you'll join the conversation. You can hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments right here on the Huffington Post. Come on, Talk Nerdy to Me!
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