Soylent Green may be made of people, but in the future that biomedical engineer Mark Post envisions, Soylent Pink is his lab-grown pork sausage. Lab-grown meat could reduce the need for farm animals, Post told Nature’s Nicola Jones:
“I realized this could have much greater impact than any of the medical work I’d been doing over 20 years — in terms of environmental benefits, health benefits, benefits against world starvation,” he says.
Before his future comes, there are several hurdles lab-meat researchers need to jump. Post believes he is close, though, and estimates that he could produce a single “demonstration” sausage in a year–if he can just round up about $250,000 in funding.
“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]:
• The hottest country code on teh Internets [sic]: .su—as in, the Soviet Union. Which, in case you somehow forgot, doesn’t exist anymore.
• Big prizes are spurring a new age in (and at least one blog about) space exploration. Now PETA hopes to do the same with a $1 million prize to the first mad scientists who can “produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012,” thereby sparing real animals from becoming meat. Note the stipulation about “commercially viable,” you home molecular gastronomists.