The Null Device
Meat without murder
Vat-grown meat, cultured in vats of nutrients from a single stem cell, could be on the market by 2009
A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world's population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out how to grow it on a large scale. Jason Matheny, a University of Maryland doctoral student and a director of New Harvest, a nonprofit organization that funds research on in vitro meat, believes the easiest way to create edible tissue is to grow "meat sheets," which are layers of animal muscle and fat cells stretched out over large flat sheets made of either edible or removable material. The meat can then be ground up or stacked or rolled to get a thicker cut.
"To produce the meat we eat now, 75 (percent) to 95 percent of what we feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures like skeleton or neurological tissue," says Matheny. "With cultured meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that eventually gets eaten."
Other than increased efficiency and the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing that no beautiful creature must die for that flesh you so fancifully fry, there are other advantages, such as the possibility of tailoring the makeup of the meat to be healthier, or indeed to taste unlike any natural meat. Of course, making synthetic mincemeat is one thing, and making a steak is another:
Taste is another unknown variable. Real meat is more than just cells; it has blood vessels, connective tissue, fat, etc. To get a similar arrangement of cells, lab-grown meat will have to be exercised and stretched the way a real live animal's flesh would.
And then there is the question of whether the public would accept cultured meat; and indeed whether it would be acceptable for a vegetarian to eat something grown from a cell. And if it is, I wonder how long until fetishists start growing meat from their own cells for purposes of autocannibalism.
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