Worst Science Article of the Week: Lab-Grown Meat Debuts (Again)

By Brett Israel | December 1, 2009 4:06 pm

hot-dog-web“Meat grown in laboratory in world first,” trumpets the headline of an article in The Telegraph.

The article went on to explain that Dutch researchers have grown in vitro meat in a laboratory, which is essentially edible fake meat grown in a test tube using the cells of a livestock animal. Sounds cutting-edge, right?

But we here at DISCOVER, we’ve seen a pile of other headlines over the past decade that make it clear that lab-grown meat is nothing new.

A sampling of previous articles: Serving up man-made meat (2005), Test Tube Meat Nears Dinner Table (2006), Scientists develop method for home-grown meat (2006), Scientists Flesh Out Plans to Grow (and Sell) Test Tube Meat (2008).

Nonetheless, according to The Telegraph:

Scientists have managed to grow a form of meat in a laboratory for the first time, according to reports. Researchers in the Netherlands created what was described as soggy pork and are now investigating ways to improve the muscle tissue in the hope that people will one day want to eat it.

It’s a great headline and opening (regardless of whether anyone will eat something as delectable sounding as a soggy hotdog), however researchers have been growing tiny bits of meat in their labs for years. The non-bylined Telegraph article does not mention that the idea of in vitro meat has been around since the 1930s, and the modern technology was born from a little agency named NASA, which was looking for a way to feed hungry astronauts, as reported in a 2008 Time article [emphasis added]:

Scientists first began working with in vitro proteins, grown from animal cells in Petri dishes and bioreactors, about a decade ago. The technology was originally conceived as a means to make food for astronauts to take on long space missions; in 2000, the first edible in vitro muscle protein was created from a goldfish by the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium. Soon after, scientists realized the broader applicability of the technology and began developing it to feed the rest of us earthbound folk.

While it seems that the Dutch researchers’ sci-fi sausage may in fact be the world’s first in vitro pork, it’s far from the first lab grown meat. As DISCOVER confirmed in a 2006 story:

…NASA-funded experiments have succeeded in culturing turkey muscle cells and goldfish cells as a potential way to feed astronauts on long space missions.

Fake meat has been a hot news item ever since PETA announced last year that they would award a $1 million dollar prize to the first person to create commercially available fake meat for sale at reasonable prices by 2012. The new beaker bacon doesn’t qualify for the prize, because according the contest rules the meat has to be faux-chicken and have the “taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat eaters and meat eaters alike,” according to CNN.

The Telegraph article goes on to say that the new petri pork could be available for consumers as soon as 2012. However, since the article is light on sources beyond the researchers (and it’s not clear where/if this work was published in a scientific journal), it’s hard to place a timeline on fake meat. The Time article suggests at least 5 to 10 more years of research, plus a lengthy U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process, will have to take place before any of the in vitro meats hit the shelves in the United States.

Believe it when you see it.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: I’ll Have My Burger Petri-Dish Bred, With Extra Omega-3
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Discoblog: Worst Science Article of the Week: io9’s Unspeakable Genetic Error
Discoblog: Worst Science Article of The Week: Women Are Evil, and Want Your Husband

Image: flickr / TheBusyBrain

Meat grown in laboratory in world first


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