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Biotech Science

In-Vitro Muscle Cells, It's What's For Dinner 619

Posted by samzenpus
from the just-like-mom-used-to-grow dept.
wanzeo writes "Within the last decade, many of us have experienced the encroachment of ethics into our mealtime. Phrases such as vegetarian, vegan, organic, bST, GMO, etc. have become part of common grocery store advertising. The most recent addition to the list of ethically charged food is in-vitro meat, or meat that was cultured in a petri dish, and was never part of a live animal. The project has been brought to fruition by Mark Post, a biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Grown using animal stem-cells on a nutrient medium, the nearly see-through strips of muscle would need to be stacked nearly 3,000 times to approach the thickness of a burger. The practice promises to be more humane, sustainable, and efficient than conventional meats, with one analysis suggesting it would, 'use 35 to 60 percent less energy, emit 80 to 95 percent less greenhouse gas and use around 98 percent less land.' In a world where nearly half of all crop production is used to feed livestock, a move towards artificial meat may be inevitable."
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In-Vitro Muscle Cells, It's What's For Dinner

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:03AM (#38040966)

    Soylent Green. Because you're what's for dinner.

  • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:09AM (#38041006) Journal

    Offtopic I know,

    but are we stuck with that big square box now?

  • by nido (102070) <nido56NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:10AM (#38041008) Homepage

    Vegetarians like to say that they're getting all the protein they need. And by the numbers, beans and grains do have good amounts of protein... But these proteins are locked up for storage, and have Protease inhibitors [wikipedia.org] to interfere with their digestion. Trypsin [wikipedia.org] is what makes Soybeans so inedible...

    Potatoes are the best vegan source of protein, because potatoes' defenses are against the microbes that cause rotting, whereas the above-ground portions of the plants have all sorts of defenses against animals.

    Gelatin is a good source of protein because of the kinds of amino acids that it has, and does NOT have. The recent news about synthetic human gelatin [slashdot.org] is a bit more important than this form of synthetic meat, methinks.

  • Re:Ethics? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:26AM (#38041100)

    Cats and dogs were never part of daily food for the vast majority of human mankind throughout history.

    Eating whales WAS not unethical. Contributing NOW to the extinction of a mammal (or animal in general) IS unethical. It's a prime example for unethical behavior.
    Their IQ is irrelevant for your own behavior, but I suspect YOUR IQ is pretty low. So...Can I eat you? It shouldn't be unethical as you are as smart as a pig.

  • Victimless Leather (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ideonexus (1257332) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:26AM (#38041104) Homepage Journal

    There was an art piece at the MOMA's Design and the Elastic Mind [moma.org] exhibit titled "Victimless Leather" which involved growing a batch of stem cells into the shape of a tiny jacket. The piece eventually had to be "killed" [grinding.be] when it grew out of control... as stem cells tend to do (and why their promise is over-exaggerated because they give you cancer [livescience.com]).

    I appreciate people working on innovations like this, but we are decades and decades away from getting anything practical out of it. The meat we get from mother nature has billions of years of natural selection going into it, making it grow more efficiently. We co-evolved with it, meaning we are selected to make to the most efficient use of its nutrients. It's going to take a lot of time in the lab to match the nutrition and efficiency of muscle meat produced from 3.5 billion years of evolution.

  • But is it kosher? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blowdart (31458) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:38AM (#38041172) Homepage
    Serious question - if you clone pig meat, without the animal ever being grown, it won't have hooves - so is it kosher? What if you clone human meat from a volunteer? Is that cannibalism?
  • by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @11:57AM (#38041284)
    The problem with your perspective is it assumes wrongly that this work is being done from scratch, read further out of context it would seem like you're saying that these researchers are creating tissue (and by extension a lifeform) that didn't exist before. This isn't the case. Natural selection isn't being thrown out the window, all that work is simply being isolated, packaged, and controlled. It will probably be adjusted as the work proceeds, but that isn't surprising considering the 'natural' process you vaunt in fact is focused on 'good enough' solutions. Life is a process for gene replication and everything else is gravy. Artificial selection is by definition more intelligent and efficient than natural selection, and unlike natural selection it can have goals in excess of simple gene survival.
  • Re:But is it kosher? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 13, 2011 @12:14PM (#38041380)

    Genuine kashrut rabbi and lurker from about '98 here, if they culture the cells from a freshly kosher slaughtered kosher animal then it would be forever kosher.
    If the animal were not killed first it would be ever min hachai or flesh stripped from a living animal and a rarity for Jewish kosher law considered forbidden to all humans(from the law given to Noah when humans were first permitted meat rathen for the Jews at Mt Sinai).
    Since the kosher status is for meat of the animal there might be room for an interpretation that subsequent cells grown form any animal are no longer that creature but simply a vat grown blob removing any kosher concerns and considering it something akin to candy made from all synthetic materials.

  • Long Pig (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Sunday November 13, 2011 @12:43PM (#38041518) Journal

    Human flesh tastes like pign. Search for "long pig". Also, the Mercury astronauts were, as part of their survival training, taught that the tenderest cuts are from just under the ribcage.

    Complete directions for preparing long pig [churchofeuthanasia.org] (warning: very "Dexter"-like)

  • Re:Monsanto (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArcherB (796902) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @01:27PM (#38041776) Journal

    I'm actually fine with this idea of 'fake meat', as long as it's done well. If it tastes and behaves similarly to 'real meat', and is made from actual real animal cells... I'm just fine with the idea...

    I don't see this tasting or feeling anything like real meat. Sure, it may be layers of mean protein stacked on top of each other, but meat is more than that. Meat comes with fat. That's the stuff that makes meat juicy. Sometimes, meat comes on a bone. That's like a handle. Meat can be light or dark depending on what part of the animal it comes from. It may be tough, meaning that it must be cooked for hours to tender it up. It may be tender, meaning that it should be flash cooked. And finally, meat has a texture, or "grain" that needs to be adhered to. You must cut meat AGAINST the grain or else it becomes stringy and tough. I don't care how well a piece of meat is cooked, if it's cut wrong, it's tough.

    Anyway, my point is that petri-meat will have none of these qualities. The only thing I see this good for is ground meat where the texture doesn't matter, and even then, animal fat will have to be added from another petri dish from a biproduct of a real animal, which kinda defeats the purpose. That may not work either because I don't know if there is a flavor difference between fat grown on a cows back vs the fat that grows in the skin. Come to think of it, bacon fat tastes a whole to different than pork chop fat.

    We will not have a synthetic steak that will fool anyone until we are capable of growing full organs as layers of muscle protein is not going to full anyone that has ever eaten meat before.

  • Edible insects (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xaxa (988988) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @02:05PM (#38042030)

    It's predicted that meat will be too expensive for most of the world's population by 2050, and some scientists have proposed that westerners should eat insects instead. See entomophagy [wikipedia.org].

    I'd quite like to try some of the big insects. I've tried some tiny ones (waxworms and crickets) and found them tasteless except for the sauce they were served in.

    Insects have some advantages over mammals, birds and fish. They like to live in colonies, which is good for factory farming. They're very high in protein -- sometimes as much as 70%, compared to about 15% by mass for a cow. They take a lot less energy to produce. And many humans already eat them, unlike in-vitro muscle.

  • Re:No thanks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by green1 (322787) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @02:07PM (#38042048)

    It is actually interesting to see this article on here today, I was actually just reading information about the progression of human ethics and morality. From the past where anyone not of your own religion, skin colour, or gender were considered non-human and treated accordingly, to today's world where discrimination still happens, but is generally recognized as such within society and strongly discouraged, to a future where everyone is truly equal and discrimination is a thing of the past. One of the big thoughts brought forward of course is that in the past while people of other groups were treated as non-human, it was taken for granted that this was in fact the case, and while there may have been some people who believed otherwise, it was a generally accepted fact in society.

    Now to the point, if our sense of morality was so different in the past, where will it be in the future? There is an argument that the way we treat (and eat) animals right now will look not much different to a person a couple hundred years from now than the way we now see the idea of how other races were treated a couple hundred years ago. I don't know if I agree with that sentiment or not, however it seems a logical extension of where morality has been to where it is going, and as a person living in today's society it is impossible to see what cultural biases might be clouding my judgement.

    That said, I love meat, I plan to keep eating meat. Will I eat synthetically grown meat? I don't see why not, assuming they manage to make it taste close enough to the real thing (which is a tougher task than one might think, what we taste in meat is not just the raw muscle itself, but is also influenced by the way the animal as exercised, and the food it has eaten.)

    Of course one more jab on the animal rights front, many animals alive today would simply not be here if humans didn't eat meat. While it may seem noble to not slaughter the cows for beef, it must be realized that if humans didn't eat meat most of those cows would never have lived in the first place. (same for almost any animal that humans regularly eat) I know many people on here were talking about feedlotting vs grazing, and while I know there must be a lot of feedlots, I've never seen one, and yet I can't drive five minutes on the highway around here without seeing fields full of grazing cows. I'm not sure if that's just coincidence, of if feedlots aren't as common in my area as real grazing is?

  • It's real meat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meerling (1487879) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @03:19PM (#38042510)
    It's not fake, artificial, or synthetic. It is cultured meat. I guess you could even call it vat meat, sci-fi has since before I was born.
    But in no way shape or form is it fake/artificial/synthetic. It was just grown without the rest of the animal.

    For those of you that think it would be a generic meat slurry, that's not correct either. It would actually be chicken, or beef, or mutton, or albacore tuna, or whatever species provided the cell sample for that batch. It's true that diet of the animal changes the meat flavors (some species more than others), but that can be duplicated by changing the nutrient feed.
    Again, this isn't a new idea, and some people have thought a lot about it, even though they didn't have the technology to do it yet. Three big things seem to keep coming up as it's big points. Efficiency, Product Control, No animal slaughters.

    Would I eat it? You know, the opportunity hasn't arisen, but I'd be willing to give it a try.
    At the moment, it's in kind of a primitive state, but eventually I'd expect those products to be of a higher quality than the old style.
    Although the first person to request a 'test tube steak' needs to get hit with a cutting board to the face, unless they're 12, in which case it's to be expected. :)

    Oh, one final thought for you. I know this idea seems strange at first, but really, do you actually know what you are eating right now? Do you actually claim to know what a twinkie is made of? Or for that matter, what is Disodium Inosinate, TBHQ, or Acesulfame Potassium? Sure you can find out, but you haven't, and yet you eat foods with these and many other 'mystery' ingredients all the time. So why raise a huge fuss over actual chicken meat that was grown a lab as opposed to a poop covered chicken hutch? Think about it.
  • Re:Edible insects (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorpNO@SPAMGmail.com> on Sunday November 13, 2011 @03:28PM (#38042582) Homepage Journal

    It's predicted that meat will be too expensive for most of the world's population by 2050, and some scientists have proposed that westerners should eat insects instead.

    We've heard this Malthusian nonsense for two centuries now, and not only is it still not true, there's more abundance of food (including meat) than ever before, even with a population hitting 7 billion. As long as there are free markets, there will be enough food. Farmers and companies will find a way.

  • by joost (87285) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @04:27PM (#38042934) Homepage

    You are wrong. I don't know about McDonalds, but large-chain supermarkets mix meat from different continents as a matter of course. Since in the Western world we have a fat surplus, they import lean beef from Botswana and mix the two to produce mince. About 60% of your store bought mince comes from Botswana if you shop at large chains owned by Ahold (to name just one).

  • Re:Monsanto (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @10:11PM (#38044724)

    Because, uh, nobody lived in the New World to eat (and breed, corn in particular) that food until the Europeans showed up?

    That was the point I was trying to make about how the notion that humans co-evolved with their crops just doesn't mean anything here. Unless you're a Native American, you didn't get New World crops until then.

    I note, also, that tetanus, botulin, diphtheria, and shiga toxins are all proteins.

    So's snake venom. My point is that the vast majority of proteins, even if we include species that we don't eat, are still harmless. Again, not that it really matters since any protein inserted into GE crops is studied pretty intensively first.

    Old-style crossbreeding is rather different from some of the stuff we're doing now.

    Yeah, but its still changing the genes. If you breed some new trait, there's something controlling it. That isn't much different than just inserting it from some other source. Consider the three traits currently inserted into crops: the insect resistance trait (the Bt ones), herbicide resistance, and virus resistance. These are really pretty benign. The herbicide resistance trait is either a bacterial form of EPSP synthase (plants already have a form of this, the only difference is that this one lacks the site that the herbicide glyphosate binds to) or the enzyme produced by the bar gene that degrades glufosinate (which I confess I don't know as much about but I have no reason to suspect a specific enzyme of anything any more than any other enzyme making up all the pathways in plants). The virus resistance trait uses a gene from the viral coat protein of the virus, and you end up with a lot more of that protein in the non-GE version than the GE version (also, it relies on a defensive mRNA shutdown process so not all that horribly much is even converted into a protein). Neither of those seem exceptionally scary to me (and of course lets not forget that you can just as easily transfer genes from species we already eat, cisgenic genes from breeding compatable species, and anti-sense traits from the very same plant). And as for the Bt one...

    Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) proteins, that was never in anything that we ate before.

    Bt was applied to crops for about half a century before the genes were used in genetic engineering. We know very well how they work. They're very specific, binding to specific receptors in the guts of certain insects, and the form you eat isn't even the 'toxic' form. It doesn't become active until its in an alkaline environment (I'm sure you know that human guts are acidic). Here's something to think about: if the Lepidoptera didn't exist, we'd never know that the cry proteins from Bt were 'toxins'. And my previous point still holds true about how most proteins are digested. You don't have to step too far out of your culinary comfort zone to encounter new ones. Granted, they've been consumed to some extent unless you're going hyper exotic like mandapuça or butyagela or something, but there's still lots of things that are relatively new and unconsumed, so I don't really think that's a good argument to apply to inserted proteins in GE crops, especially considering that the protein has to be studied pretty well before it can be used.

    on the other hand, profit-oriented business in the US has a long track record of telling us that whatever happens to make money for them is totally harmless. You'd have to be a complete idiot to not be skeptical of whatever happy talk you heard from anyone selling you stuff.

    I don't disagree. But to go the complete other direction and throw out all the science supporting GE crops just because companies stand to gain is just as bad. I'm not saying to trust the companies. You don't have to. The analogy I like to use all the time is the case of the anti-vaxers. They always say, 'Don't trust the pharma companies.' That's not a

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