Environmentalists say that cattle ranching should become athing of the past, since cows passing gas (methane) are amajor source of global warming and farming cows is also awasteful use of land. At least we now know that cattle donot need antibiotics if they’re grass fed, since it’s thefeedlot corn that causes their infections. But how areastronauts going to eat steak in space? NASA has discoveredthat small amounts of edible meat can be created in a lab.In fact, lab grown meat may be the food of the future forall of us.
In a recent issue of Tissue Engineering, Agricultural expertJason Matheny writes about two new techniques of tissueengineering that may one day produce in-vitro (lab grown)meat for human consumption. “There would be a lot ofbenefits from cultured meat,” Matheny says. “For one thing,you could control the nutrients. For example, most meats arehigh in the fatty acid Omega 6, which can cause highcholesterol and other health problems. With in-vitro meat,you could replace that with Omega 3, which is a healthy fat.Cultured meat could also reduce the pollution that resultsfrom raising livestock, and you wouldn’t need the drugs thatare used on animals raised for meat.”
Is it possible to create an edible product that tastes likebeef, poultry, pork, lamb or fish and also has the nutrientsand texture of the real thing? Scientists know how toisolate a single muscle cell from a cow or chicken and letit divide into thousands of new muscle cells. NASA hasexperimented with creating small amounts of food productsfor long-term space travel, where storage is a problem. ButMatheny says, “We need a different approach for large scaleproduction.” He wants to grow the cells in large flat sheetson thin membranes. The sheets of meat would be grown andstretched, then removed from the membranes and stacked ontop of one another to increase thickness.
Another method would be to grow the muscle cells on smallthree-dimensional beads that stretch with small changes intemperature. The mature cells could then be harvested andturned into a processed meat, like chicken nuggets orhamburgers. To grow meat on a large scale, cells fromseveral different kinds of tissue, including muscle and fat,would be needed to give the meat the an appealing texture.”The challenge is getting the texture right,” says Matheny.”We have to figure out how to ‘exercise’ the muscle cells.For the right texture, you have to stretch the tissue, likea live animal would.”
One thing about in-vitro meat: It would eliminate the dangerof Mad Cow Disease, since the meat would not be “fed”anything. Matheny says, ?With a single cell, you couldtheoretically produce the world’s annual meat supply. Andyou could do it in a way that’s better for the environmentand human health. In the long term, this is a very feasibleidea.”
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