Scientists trying to create alternative food sources for astronauts believe we could grow meat on in a laboratory, without slaughtering fish or animals. Scientists at Touro College in New York have managed to make slices of fish grow bigger this way and believe it will be possible in the future to grow meat in industrial quantities from the muscle cell lines of various animals or fish.

?This could save you having to slaughter animals for food,? says project leader Morris Benjaminson, a bioengineer and veteran of a number of NASA projects on recycling waste onboard spacecraft. He?s working on more varied diets for astronauts, who get tired of freeze-dried dinners and tubes of food.

Scientists have been looking at ways of producing fresh food for astronauts in flight. In 2001, German researchers designed an artificial ecosystem that provides a continuous supply of fresh fish in a spacecraft. But breeding live animals for food has problems–they produce excrement, and killing them generates inedible waste products. So NASA is wants to go one step further and grow just the edible muscle tissue.

Benjaminson?s group cut chunks of muscle 2 to 4 inches long from large goldfish. After washing the chunks in alcohol, they immersed them in a vat of fetal bovine serum, a nutrient-rich liquid extracted from the blood of unborn calves, which biologists use for growing cells in the lab.

After a week in the vat, the fish chunks had grown by 14 per cent. To get some idea whether the new muscle tissue would make acceptable food, they washed it and gave it a quick dip in olive oil flavored with lemon, garlic and pepper. Then they fried it and showed it to colleagues from other departments. ?We wanted to make sure it?d pass for something you could buy in the supermarket,? Benjaminson says. ?They said it looked like fish and smelled like fish, but they didn?t go as far as tasting it.? They won?t be allowed to actually eat it until Benjamison gets approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Benjaminson tried growing chunks of goldfish muscle in liquid mushroom extract instead, but although the tissue survived for a week, it did not grow. He is hoping to find a substitute for bovine serum before trying the technique on chicken, beef and lamb.

?Fish mass grown in a nutrient broth sounds as unappealing as some of the other food astronauts take up with them, but these things have got to be explored,? says Colin Pillinger, head of the Planetary Space Sciences Research Institute at the Open University in Milton Keynes. ?I think it?d be more appropriate when you?ve got a base set up on a planet.?

Has anyone considered that this means you could cut off a chunk off your own muscle tissue, grow it into a steak and become a cannibal? Let?s hope we don?t find this on our supermarket shelves soon.

For information on how to protect yourself at the grocery store, read ?Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston,click here.

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