Your vat-grown burger will be ready in a decade, sir

Paul Raven @ 01-08-2009

brunch burgerWe’ve mentioned the potential of vat-grown meat here before, but I thought it worth bringing up again in light of an article at Wired UK that goes into more technical detail about the processes involved in growing cultured muscle for human consumption. [image by Marshall Astor]

“We’re developing a very simplified version of what we know as meat,” he 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.”

They seem pretty confident about having a commercially viable product within a decade or so… but it’s probably going to delight the tastebuds about as much as the food you get on budget airlines:

“I don’t think we will spend a whole lot of time trying to replicate the taste of meat, though – that will be artificially added later. The food industry is already expert at enhancing taste – creating the right texture is the Holy Grail.”

Why complicate matters, adds Post, when you can nurture skeletal muscles to produce a simple, lean meat? Strip away the connective tissue, blood vessels and fat – as many of us do when we prepare a chicken breast prior to cooking it – and you’re left with a lean fillet of meat which consists of, roughly, 75 per cent water, 20 per cent protein and three per cent fat. Post believes that we are not too far away from producing this kind of meat on a commercial scale – ten years, perhaps. Convincing in vitro steaks and chops are probably a few decades away.

I guess the problem here is that the stuff will never sell until it comes out cheaper than real off-the-hoof meat. Once that price point is reached, however, I suspect the take-up rate will skyrocket.

vMeat with a Soul

C Sven Johnson @ 26-11-2008

The latest instalment of Sven Johnson’s Future Imperfect is part of the Superstruct project.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Still aboard his one-way ‘cruise’, future-Sven gets caught in between food shortages, cultured meat… and vegan griefers. Continue reading “vMeat with a Soul”

In the Future, All Art Will Be Grown in Vats

Brian Wanamaker @ 07-05-2008

It’s commonly said that “life imitates art,” but in this case life is art, to a disturbing degree: a curator was forced to “kill” an art exhibit, a living jacket on life support which threatened to grow beyond its boundaries. [m. christian]

Meat futures redux – just leave the brains out

Paul Raven @ 18-04-2008

BullThe best thing about science is the same as the best thing about science fiction – it’s the lively debates and differing opinions. The vat-grown meat story got some fairly wide coverage beyond science fictional circles, so here’s legendary biology-blogger PZ “Pharyngula” Myers’ angle on the issue:

“The more I think about it, the more I think people are going at it backwards. We shouldn’t be thinking about building muscle from the cells up, to create a purified system to produce meat for the market, we should be going the other way, starting with self-sustaining meat producers and genetically paring away the less commercially viable bits, like the brain. Instead of test-tube meat, we should be working on more efficient organisms that generate muscle tissue with the properties we want.”

OK, now I’m fairly easy with the idea of eating meat that’s just a lump of stuff grown in a petri-dish. But animals engineered to not have a nervous sytem? That really is a pretty queasy thought, even though I can see why (rationally) it shouldn’t be. [image by TwoBlueDay]

All hail the New Flesh – in-vitro meat on sale within a decade

Paul Raven @ 15-04-2008

Blue steakHere’s another item to add to the list of science fictional ideas that are edging close to becoming a reality – in-vitro (or “vat-grown”) meat could be sat on supermarket shelves within ten years.

The technology is already tried and tested, it’s just a case of waiting for the economic cost to become competitive … which, given the sharp (and probably continuing) rise in global food prices, may come sooner than anyone would like to think. [image by Yandle]

I’ve spoken to friends about in-vitro meat and their reaction has usually been disgust. I’m guessing that the economics will change that attitude more effectively than any amount of rational discussion – principles tend to be the first thing that gets eaten when someone’s stomach is empty, and we’re already consuming meat from cloned livestock.

And after all, it’s not quite the same as Soylent Green. Would you move to eating in-vitro meat right now if it cost less than the real thing?

[And we’re back to song lyric references in headlines … 😉 ]

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