Friday, November 20, 2009

Growing Meat Without Animals: I Wondered How Long This Would Take

"Mad Science? Growing Meat Without Animals"
LiveScience (November 19, 2009)

"Winston Churchill once predicted that it would be possible to grow chicken breasts and wings more efficiently without having to keep an actual chicken. And in fact scientists have since figured out how to grow tiny nuggets of lab meat and say it will one day be possible to produce steaks in vats, sans any livestock.

"Pork chops or burgers cultivated in labs could eliminate contamination problems that regularly generate headlines these days, as well as address environmental concerns that come with industrial livestock farms.

"However, such research opens up strange and perhaps even disturbing possibilities once considered only the realm of science fiction. After all, who knows what kind of meat people might want to grow to eat?..."

You think there are people having conniptions about "genetically engineered" food now? Wait until someone starts growing steaks without cattle.

Actually, I've been wondering why this took so long. Dusting off notes for an unwritten (so far) science fiction story, I noted "steakfruit" - grown on trees, the "fruit" is about the size of a grapefruit - with bovine meat inside. No plant would grow something like that if left to itself.

But seriously: do you think it's just random chance that makes domestic turkeys so much more muscular - and stupider - than their wild counterparts? We've "genetically engineered" the brains out of them, turned their feathers white, and made sure that they'd look like avian Schwarzeneggers (No offense to the California governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a mind like a steel trap: but he was also seriously buff in his Conan days).

Some of the arguments that LiveScience gives for developing real-life equivalents of "steakfruit" involve being scared of greenhouse gasses (think "the belching cows of doom"), avoiding animal suffering (they've got a point there - but what about the poor plants?), and cutting down on animal-born ailments, like mad cow disease.

That last actually makes sense - but I'm pretty sure that, if "steakfruit" go on the market, someone in, say, Burbank, would get sick after eating one - and there'd be more fuss about big, bad science. Seriously, I don't think it would take all that long for some microorganism to develop an affinity for muscle tissue grown in plants. Bacteria and viruses mutate and adapt fast. There's even a species of bacteria that lives in hairspray. (May 27, 2009)

And, since that particular species would most likely die out if the brand of hairspray it lives in was discontinued: the producers should be forced to keep making it, or face the wrath of conservationists. Hey, we don't want another endangered species, do we?

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