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Biotech Science

Scientists Work To Grow Meat In a Lab 376

Posted by Soulskill
from the sounds-delicious dept.
codeman07 writes "In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat. A developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Mironov, 56, is one of only a few scientists worldwide involved in bioengineering 'cultured' meat. It's a product he believes could help solve future global food crises resulting from shrinking amounts of land available for growing meat the old-fashioned way... on the hoof. Growth of 'in-vitro' or cultured meat is also underway in the Netherlands, Mironov told Reuters in an interview, but in the United States, it is science in search of funding and demand."
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Scientists Work To Grow Meat In a Lab

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  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:15AM (#35065536) Homepage Journal

    Make higher quality meat than most of the current producers (that's not hard, we're not talking wagyu here) and do it cheaper than them (and that *really* shouldn't be hard, you're basically making beer here).

    Economics will do the rest.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by georgesdev (1987622)
      I'll be 100 in 2060. May I ask that this "invention" waits until then to hit the shops. Seriously, people pretend to do this for the sake of ecology. But I see this as the opposite of ecology. Plus it reminds me of the ersatz people made during the second world war (sugar from tissue, etc ...)
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Make higher quality meat than most of the current producers (that's not hard, we're not talking wagyu here) and do it cheaper than them (and that *really* shouldn't be hard, you're basically making beer here).

      Economics will do the rest.

      You've got it wrong, buddy, the "economy doing the rest" I mean. Here's my take on the "faith in the economy at work" (I dare you to prove me wrong, with real-world examples in the last 10 years):

      1. set up the process to produce meant and do it at a good enough quality (don;t care even to do it at "higher than most of the producers", the trick is: you don't need to. Don't believe me? Continue reading)

      2. outsource the production plants to India/China. This is how they'll become cheaper (and the associated

    • Re:Damn academics (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @08:47AM (#35066358) Homepage Journal

      Economics will do the rest.

      "Economics" is closer to astrology than it is to physics.

      If you think you can count on "economics" to do anything you are a silly rabbit.

  • It's got a nice ring to it, doesn't it? That would look great on the front of any packaged meat. In fact, sales will probably skyrocket. End sarcasm. I would really like to see how they would manage to market that, though.
    • by Tukz (664339) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:21AM (#35065560) Journal

      If it contains all the minerals, proteins, aminoacids and generally all the qualities of regular meat, I don't give a damn what's on the label.
      Though, I'd think they give it some catchy name or catch phrase.

      "I can't believe it's not meat!"

      • Likewise. If they started putting this in fast food, people wouldn't care any more than they care that their current chicken nuggets are only 10% chicken or whatever. In fact this would probably make fast food slightly more appealing.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ProbablyJoe (1914672)
          That's the thing, people go crazy about genetically modified food, think it's wrong and evil, and refuse to eat it. And yet, the same people will gladly eat fast food that has far worse stuff in it. Clearly, McDonalds is far more trustworthy than science. Sigh.
          • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @10:16AM (#35067092) Journal
            If you look at anti-GM arguments more closely, you'll find that many (most?) people are opposed to them because there are environmental risks, because one of the most common uses of GM is to allow vastly stronger herbicides / pesticides, because it enables patenting of the food supply, because terminator crops reduce farmer's negotiating power with the companies that make them, because it is unlikely that the modifications can be prevented from entering the general biosphere meaning companies are taking it upon themselves to alter plantlife for everyone without consent and because there are few if any compelling arguments in their favour. At best, they tend to be a patch on a symptom, rather than an actual solution. For example the superbly marketed "golden rice" which contains additonal vitamin A, touted as a great benefit to people in India where deficiency is not uncommon. The thing is, it didn't used to be uncommon when farmers grew a variety of crops. But now due to the pressures of the international market, famers tend to focus on a few money crops (i.e. rice) and thus people don't get the balanced diet that they used to. Slapping some vitamin A into the rice (in exchange for selling your new pesticides and crop licences) is not redress for the damage done to world farming.

            You'll notice that none of this has anything to do with whether or not people eat at McDonalds (which I don't).
      • by msauve (701917)
        It's Animal 57 [kibo.com].
    • by Vlobulle (1286874)

      Easy: make it cheaper than the cheapest meat you can currently find in your average supermarket.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Easy: make it cheaper than the cheapest meat you can currently find in your average supermarket.

        It would probably have to be as cheap as the "meat substitutes" to sell, as it would be seen by consumers as fake in the same way as the soya-based alternatives.

        • It would probably have to be as cheap as the "meat substitutes" to sell, as it would be seen by consumers as fake in the same way as the soya-based alternatives.

          Which in most cases is more expensive than meat. My wife wanted to do the vegetarian thing for a while, so when I went to buy soyburger, it was about $4 for a 20 oz. package vs. $2.50 for a lb. of 80/20 hamburger. Not a big deal for a family of 4, but it could be if your family is larger. Thankfully the appeal wore off after a month. Now we only eat one or two vegetarian meals a week.

    • by ledow (319597) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:38AM (#35065636) Homepage

      Please, then, stick with your steroid-injected, BSE-ridden, hormone-packed, coloured, flavoured, seasoned, salted, vitamin-fortified, water-engorged joints of meat that are currently on the shelf.

      The problem with people who *won't* buy "genetically modified", non-organic etc. foods is that they have no idea what they are *currently* eating anyway.

      Growing "clean" meat in a lab sounds a good way to produce cheap meat for actually *feeding* people, e.g. developing countries, without needing to have acres of perfectly-good farmland dedicated to producing enough feed to sustain a whole herd of animals for years in order to slaughter one at a later date.

      It would also work well for "essentials" meat, such as superstore value ranges for people who can only just afford it. I think I'd rather eat a generic, clean meat than the cheap offcuts of the cheapest animal, packaged in the cheapest possible way - especially if there are no possible BSE, etc. problems with it.

      And meat production currently causes 18% of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, and for various meats we push somewhere between 4 and 54 times the amount of energy into producing meat than we get in useful protein from the meat.

      I don't give a shit what it says on the packet - and a bit of honesty would go a long way with me, in fact, rather than misleading and inaccurate statements like "organic" or "diet" or "reduced sugar" etc. - as long as it's edible. That doesn't mean I'd eat it for every meal but as a cheap way to get the energy I need to survive when I don't have much money? Bring it on.

    • by Eskarel (565631)

      My personal guess would be low fat, cruelty free.

    • As far as I'm concerned this is old technology and called fish farming mainly, though I believe raising smaller animals, also may be an improvement over cattle in terms of carbon produced per-pound of meat.
  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:19AM (#35065552)

    Nice to see that Mironov is still getting some attention, but this story is at least five years old. I wrote a feature story about lab-grown meat almost six years ago for the Village Voice, which goes into much more detail than the Reuters piece: http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-07-26/art/brave-new-hamburger/

  • by autonomouse (1203262) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:23AM (#35065568) Homepage
    ...then we can call it "Bo-vine"
    • by pspahn (1175617)
      Or even Oh-Vine!!! I'd buy that from a vending machine!
    • Banana meat.

      • by Lennie (16154)

        But we only have only a few banana plants left, their are no new banana plants anymore. We actually can not create any new species, because we can not grow any new plants anymore.

        All banana come from the same few 'plants' through the process of 'cutting' (not sure http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutting_(plant) [wikipedia.org] ).

        We messed that one up already.

        If their is a banana-plant disease which spreads easily there will be no more banana's.

        • by Thing 1 (178996)

          But we only have only a few banana plants left, their are no new banana plants anymore.

          In other words: We have no new banana plants today!

  • Ethically Delicious (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JudgeSlash (823985)
    It would be nice to say, one day, that the steak you are eating came from the last cow to die (be sequenced?) for human consumption. I for one welcome our cultured bovine over-done-lords.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Uh, sorry to burst your bubble of cows dancing free in the surf but I doubt people are going to keep cows for pets after we eliminate their need as a food source.

      All that will be left of cows is dairy herds...until we learn how to replace that too, and then I doubt there will be many cows at all except in zoos. Modern breeds will hardly thrive in the 'wild'.

      Also, what ethical problem is there is eating meat ?!?

      • by sayfawa (1099071)
        Better that an animal never be born than spend a miserable, tortuous life trapped in a cage hardly bigger than itself, only to finally be slaughtered for food.
      • by delt0r (999393)
        Modern breeds do quite well in the wild. At least in NZ.
  • Hunger and starvation isn't a production issue, its a distribution issue. If we're facing an inevitable meat scarcity resulting from land shortages perhaps the first solution to consider would be constructing fewer hamburger bioengineering laboratories.
    • No matter how you slice(ha!) it, creating meat consumes more food than it provides. Something like a ratio of 20:1 in the case of beef, not to mention all the greenhouse gases emitted by raising animals for slaughter.
      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @12:04PM (#35068278) Homepage

        I'm going to slice it differently. And I'm even a mostly-vegetarian.

        The reason that humans have been domesticating animals for food for millenia has a lot to do with animals being able to take advantage of food sources that humans couldn't or wouldn't eat. For instance, pigs were raised in large part on table scraps. Cattle, sheep, and goats were raised on grasses, typically in places where growing plants wasn't viable. Chickens and ducks were expected to forage quite a bit. All this made perfect sense, and can increase overall food supply.

        What doesn't make sense (in terms of increasing the food supply) is using perfectly good arable land to grow feed corn that humans really don't want to eat, then turn around and feed that corn to animals who aren't built to eat corn, and then pump those animals full of drugs to ensure that they don't get sick eating the corn that they aren't really supposed to be eating. From a purely engineering standpoint, feedlot beef is probably the least efficient food on the planet, and the only reason that it's economically viable at all is because of artificially low prices for feed corn created by a combination of US government policy and massive overproduction.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Hunger and starvation isn't a production issue, its a distribution issue. If we're facing an inevitable meat scarcity resulting from land shortages...

      Somehow, land shortages in US doesn't ring true... 7.2% beef carcass exported [usda.gov] in 2009... doesn't seem Mironov has a case with this argument... unless something changed from 2009...

      Hang on! the McDonalds stock price [google.com] doubled in the last 5 years... maybe there IS actually a need for low-quality/very-low price mince... use enough fat, flavors and enhancers and, if it is supersized and at the same price, it doesn't matter anymore.

  • by Rinnon (1474161) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:32AM (#35065610)
    What are Vegetarians going to do when this comes out? It'll throw the WHOLE damn system out of whack! "Sorry, is that a Vegetarian Friendly Steak? Great! Medium-Rare."
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      What are Vegetarians going to do when this comes out? It'll throw the WHOLE damn system out of whack! "Sorry, is that a Vegetarian Friendly Steak? Great! Medium-Rare."

      I can see people going both ways. Ethical vegetarians would probably decide based on whether there was an ongoing need for real animals, the testing needed, etc. Environmental vegetarians would look at the impact compared to crop growing and make a rational decision. Those who just don't like meat (my mum is in this category) won't bother trying it.

      • Environmental vegetarians would look at the impact compared to crop growing and make a rational decision.

        I hope they make a rational decision. God knows many times these organisations choose an ideological path, and don't let logic and evidence stand in their way.

      • Or those who are vegetarian for health reasons..

    • That question tells me more about you than about vegetarians.

  • Say it with me people, the "food crisis" is a political (and to a lesser extent, economical) problem, not a scientific problem.

    You can throw a fuck load of science behind it, and it's unlikely to help as many as you think it will.

    However, I do like this research, and would love to eat that kind of meat. Finally we could rid ourselves of the scourge that is... the cow.

    Or to put it another way... the cow belongs in a museum!

    • by jamesh (87723)

      But whether the environmental crisis is a political or economical one, the solution is going to be scientific. People are just not going to stop eating meat and the way we currently grow it is a huge waste of... well everything.

      If we environmentally taxed everything properly (eg tax = the cost of fixing the damage done in making the product) then while people in the supermarket might be thinking "vat meat... ew!", they also be thinking "hmmm... steak from cow, $49.99/kg... vat meat, $9.99/kg... I guess i've

      • by definate (876684)

        Sure. But you're producing a solution for the extreme future, without resolving a solution for the current problem.

        Also, if we can't solve the political / economical problem, then we sure as hell can't solve the future problem of extreme scarcity.

    • Say it with me people, the "food crisis" is a political (and to a lesser extent, economical) problem, not a scientific problem.

      "The 'food crisis' is a political..." Sorry, you should come up with better tag-line. Not catchy enough.

      • by definate (876684)

        Hrmmm, you've got a point, but I also want to be specific.

        How's about...

        Say it with me people, the food crisis is often a geopolitical problem, which can be solved via a change in trade restrictions, a change in subsidies, or a change in general business regulation. Sometimes it can be tied to a lack of security in other areas. After this, which accounts for most of the shortage, we then of course have economic problems, where in certain regions, various types of food are too expensive, due to either resour

  • Fast food (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zrbyte (1666979) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @06:44AM (#35065676)
    I'd definitely eat it :) I think an end product wouldn't differ much (from a taste and texture point of view) from a McDonald's chicken nugget with how highly processed that stuff is. One question though. In order to get the texture right (not a chicken nugget, but a side of steak) wouldn't you need to somehow exercise the muscle tissue? Subject it to some kind of mechanical stress? This would seem to be an important part of the development of the tissue, with the cows moving about for a large part of their life (or just standing if in a factory farm). And about the "yuck factor". Try killing, gutting and skinning your own meat :) I used to watch my grandfather skin and gut a rabbit, the smell alone was hardly tolerable.
    • by Magada (741361)

      Rabbits, goats and sheep do stink up to high heaven. Other things are much more tolerable.
      Exercise is needed, indeed, for texture. So far it's been done as a combination of electroshock and (mild) mechanical stress.

      • by jamesh (87723)

        There's a genetic anomaly present in some people/animals that causes muscle mass to bulk up with little to no exercise. IIRC it was some myostatin 'flaw'. I'm sure they're hard at work to try and muck around with the genetics to literally just grow it in a vat. No exercise, no electroshock, nothing.

        Myself, I can't wait :)

        • by Magada (741361)

          I'm sure it is being researched, for efficiency reasons. However, muscle mass and muscle "definition" (read:texture) aren't one and the same, as any bodybuilder will be happy to explain to you in excruciating detail.

        • I believe you refer to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy [wikipedia.org], a genetic disease cause by a mutation in the gene for one of the structural proteins in the muscle. They kids having this disease do have bulky-looking muscles, but it is not really muscle tissue but actually fatty tissue and the phenomenon is called pseudohypertrophy (hypertrophy is when a tissue gains mass; pseudo- - you get the gist of it).

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      I had some farmers and gardeners in the family. Have you seen the shit and fertilizer that goes into vegetables? Now compare that to clean meat...

    • by delt0r (999393)

      Try killing, gutting and skinning your own meat..

      Done it, and do it. It really doesn't bother me at all. But then that was in NZ where the cows roam free and all that.

  • In Soviet Russia, Scientists Grow Meat In Lab.

    In Bubble America, Lab Meat Decays For Science [stinkymeat.net].

  • I forgot the authors name, probably it was an Asimov story? I am not sure.
    This story is set in the far future, where killing of animals has stopped, and you can have lab grown meat in every flavor (cow, lamb, chicken etc.,). One company with best flavors dominates the market, with many exotic animal flavor meat on sale.

    However, a new company comes in with a meat that tastes the best, and the old leader starts losing sales.
    The owner decides to do some research, and then files a suit in the parliament.

    The mem

  • They can save a heap on advertising with existing Kenny Everett footage [youtube.com]

  • by dilvish_the_damned (167205) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @07:13AM (#35065842) Journal

    Interesting, however it still smells of a solution looking for a problem. Though the reflex might be to believe that there is no land to grow beef ( or any other meat ), due to factors such as urban sprawl, we have yet to conquer major portions of this earth with city as yet. There is still plenty of land from which to graze. It should not be a surprise, in this day and age of "everything is a potential catastrophe and you should really watch this documentary" has anyone yet mentioned that we might run out of grazing land? Have you seen the desolation which is Idaho which is mostly grazing land?

    To get back to the point; We have decommissioned much of the land due to economic factors and increases in efficiency ( really the same ). I believe this kind of solution may be profitable at some point, we are at least 50 years from it, and related technology will have morphed a bit by then - so its really just speculative.

    The business side of me suspects they may find it easier to say something like "zero emission pork". Funding will start to flow their way. If they can get to the point where they can claim this, the market will be ready made to the point of charging 3 - 4 times as much as organic meat. People are silly that way. At least those that are middle-middle class to upper-middle class will pay for it. The rest wont care and will buy the 'classic' type.

    Wait, I am just brainstorming here... Do you think they can knock off Kobe beef? There might be an angle to this.

    • by mangu (126918)

      Have you seen the desolation which is Idaho which is mostly grazing land?

      You don't believe in letting land free of human influence? Does the word "nature" mean anything to you?

      If they could let Idaho alone that would be justification enough to grow meat in factories.

    • by Jarnin (925269)

      Interesting, however it still smells of a solution looking for a problem. Though the reflex might be to believe that there is no land to grow beef ( or any other meat ), due to factors such as urban sprawl, we have yet to conquer major portions of this earth with city as yet. There is still plenty of land from which to graze. It should not be a surprise, in this day and age of "everything is a potential catastrophe and you should really watch this documentary" has anyone yet mentioned that we might run out of grazing land? Have you seen the desolation which is Idaho which is mostly grazing land?

      OK, now try looking to other countries, for example, Brazil. Upwards of 70% of the deforestation in Brazil is to make room for grazing lands, and we're talking about hundreds of thousands of square kilometers in the last 40 years. Seems like if someone can come up with lab grown meat, they might be able to ease up on their torching the rain forest.

  • I'm guessing the same fear inducing forces that makes folks shy away from food irradiation [isu.edu] will take hold here. Stem cell research gets a lot of attention, even if governments aren't likely to fund it either. But research into synthesizing a food source is just as important as stem cell research, if not more important, considering what a huge issue world hunger is today.
  • As a "mostly vegetarian", this story leaves me somewhat confused and challenges my prejudices a bit (of which I'm fully aware of the irrationality). I don't eat meat mainly because of the 'yuck' factor as well as the sometimes questionable moral issues (and also now because I enjoy the taste of Quorn-type products). Still, this breakthrough of growing meat is interesting. No blood or anything like that required?
  • The majority of the scientists working in labs around here are just growing fat.
  • when it comes to our food, most of us, even the most flaming liberal, are paleolithic conservatives. look at the hoopla over GM crops: GM crops are of course, utterly harmless, and in fact do wonderful things: orange rice (vitamin A in rice), salt resistant crops, crops that can grow with less water etc. but talk to most people about GM crops, and they act like someone is trying to get them eat radioactive botulism. its completely irrational

    likewise, this meat-from-a-vat is THE answer to food crises and veg

  • If you eat meat, and there is no animal it belonged to, will it still upset PETA?

    • Yes, of course. What makes eating meat unethical is the support for factory farming, in which animals greatly suffer. (I recommend reading Jonathan Safran Foers Eating Animals [wikipedia.org])

      If there is no animal, there is no pain, and everything is fine (except that we're already eating so much meat that it's unhealthy).

      In fact, PETA promised One Million Dollars [npr.org] for the first commercially viable growing of artificial meat.

  • by Biotech9 (704202) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @09:37AM (#35066670) Homepage

    ***Dr. Mironov has taken myoblasts -- embryonic cells that develop into muscle tissue -- from turkey and bathed them in a nutrient bath of bovine serum***

    There are several problems here. I don't grow meat in the lab, but I have grown many types of cells, human heart, FSC, CHO and currently mouse keratinocytes, fibroblasts and skin stem cells. Forget about them long enough and you get your first little layer of meat on the bottom of the tissue flask. (As an aside, growing human heart cells is amazing, you can add adrenaline and they start to beat in sync).

    The reason this will not currently work is the cost, it is in the media, which for eukaryotes requires FCS (usually) to grow. FCS is calf serum, you can read how it's made on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_bovine_serum). FCS costs money, comes from animals and can be a disease vector.

    The answer in every article I've ever read from people growing meat is that serum free media will be designed so that eukaryotic cells will be able to live and grow without animal products. This is rubbish, if it was so easy to make a perfect 'defined' media (as a media without FCS is called), that works well with eukaryotic cells, all of us working with animal cell culturing would use it. It would be a far bigger breakthrough for the biotech and pharma industries than it would be for the meat makers. It would make the inventor rich and give them a Nobel.

    Secondly you have running costs, people see the idea of growing meat in a vat as like growing beer in a vat. This is bullshit, beer is made from tough, resilient yeast. And beer manages to have QC problems.

    Meat is made from eukaryotic cells, which are a lot more complex and a lot more sensitive than yeast. If you want to know what growing meat in a vat would be like, look at pharma, recombinant protein products. Stuff like Factor VIII. It's worth more than it's weight in gold. Contamination is a much bigger problem, media costs are higher and all hardware costs a ton.

    Economies of scale would bring down prices, but not that much, it all just COSTS a lot. And the FCS problem will never be economy-of-scaled away. It's the elephant in the room that nobody in these stupid interviews ever mentions.

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