Mmm, Tasty Duck From A Petri Dish
You'd eat duck from a dish. Well, duck muscle tissue, anyway.
In a tiny R&D suite in a nondescript office building in the unglamorous Silicon Valley exurb of San Leandro, a lanky, red-haired molecular biologist named Eric Schulze is fiddling with a microscope, and I'm about to get a look at that better way. Like the specimen he'll show me, Schulze is something of a hybrid. Formerly a Food and Drug Administration regulator, he's now an educator, TV host, and senior scientist at Memphis Meats, the company that Valeti founded in 2016 and whose laboratory he is showing me. Lining one wall is a HEPA-filtered tissue cabinet, to which someone has affixed a "Chicken Crossing" sign, and a meat freezer labeled "Angus." Along the opposite wall is an incubator dialed to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the body temperature of Anas platyrhynchos domesticus--the domestic duck.
Schulze plucks a petri dish from the incubator, positions it under the microscope, and then invites me to look into the twin eyepieces. "Do you see those long, skinny things? Those are muscle-forming cells," he says. "These are from a duck that's off living its life somewhere." The cells look like strands of translucent spaghetti, with bright dots--nuclei, Schulze says--sprinkled here and there.
He removes that petri dish and inserts another. In it, scattered among the spaghetti strands, are shorter, fatter tubes, like gummy worms. Those, he explains, are mature muscle cells. Over the next few days, they'll join together in long chains, end to end, and become multicellular myotubes. These chains will form swirls and whorls until they look like the sky in Van Gogh's Starry Night. Also, Schulze casually notes, "they'll start spontaneously contracting."
Wait. Contracting? As in ... flexing?
"This is all living tissue. So, yes," Schulze says.
The idea of a dish full of duck mince suddenly beginning to twitch and squirm makes me shake my head. What's making duck bits move if not a brain and nerves? Schulze is used to this reaction. "For the past 12,000 years, we've assumed that when I say the word 'meat,' you think 'animal,' " he says. "Those two ideas are concatenated. We've had to decouple them."
Science fiction writers have been sure that you'll wind up eating meat grown without an animal - see the entry for vat meat from The End of the Line, a 1951 story by James Schmitz, as well as the synthetic food from Unto Us A Child Is Born (1933) by David H. Keller.
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