Beaker Burgers From In Vitro Meat
In vitro meat, aka beaker burgers (and so forth - see references below), could be big business. You don't want the whole cow - just the steak. Dutch scientists are among the many who are interested in the $61 billion market in red meat alone.
Take a look at this prototype meat; it is described as having the texture of an undercooked egg.
"We're developing a very simplified version of what we know as meat," Mark Post, member of the Dutch artificial meat consortium supporting the research, explains. "The cells are grown in this dish within a growing medium and this unit is where they receive the electrical stimulation. These electrodes ensure there is an electrical current - about 1Hz - passing through the cells. To make these skeletal cells develop into muscle, they need to be constantly exercised, just like in the body." This, he explains, is one of the scientific hurdles for in vitro meat that has not yet been fully addressed. "We can convert stem cells into skeletal muscle cells; however, turning them into trained skeletal muscle appears to be a little harder."
(These muscle cells could use a workout)
"If you make a mass of muscle in a fomenter, you really don't want an infection," Henk Haagsman, professor of meat science at Utrecht, says. "We're working on natural antibiotics to combat this threat. In tissue cultures in the lab we use antibiotics in the medium. It's convenient in a lab, but you can't do this in a big commercial fomenter. Quorn [a meat-substitute made from mycoprotein, a nutritious fungi] has the same issue with fungi and we have to do the same. We have to find antibiotics that are derived from animals. For example, small peptides are found in animals, such as chickens and pigs, which prevent the infection. Maybe they can be used, but it all needs to be sterile from the beginning."
Proving to consumers that in vitro meat is safe to eat will be crucial, he says. This is why so much effort is being made to avoid relying on the "easy street" of genetic modification... But public acceptance of in vitro meat could prove a hurdle equal to the science.
The name chosen for the new product will determine its destiny, says Haagsman: "We don't want the words 'lab meat' to be used. 'Test-tube meat' does not have good connotations. Maybe we should not talk about meat at all. It is muscle - but maybe it's not meat? I would hesitate to call it meat. It's about perception. Meat is associated with killing animals. I was on television once, talking about it, and they held a contest asking viewers to send in suggestions. My favourite was 'krea', the Greek word for meat."
Hey, I've got an idea. Why not ask science fiction writers, who've been working with idea for about the last fifty years, to contribute some good names. Click on the links to get juicy quotes. (That pun was an accident, I swear.)
"Chicken Little from Pohl and Kornbluth's novel The Space Merchants .
"Carniculture from H. Beam Piper's Four-Day Planet .
"Pseudoflesh from Frank Herbert's Whipping Star .
"Vat-Grown Meat from William Gibson's Neuromancer .
"Food brick* from Larry Niven's Ringworld  (*they came in liver - raw liver - for kzinti).
"ChickieNobs from Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake .
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/2/2009)
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