Friday, August 9, 2013

The Maastricht Hamburger

A hundred and one years ago a French scientist named Lewis Carrel started growing a chicken heart. Nothing unusual about that, except this bit of chicken meat wasn't inside a chicken.

It was in a laboratory in New York City, run by the Rockefeller Institute. The lab, that is. As far as the Lemming knows the Rockefeller Institute doesn't run New York City.

The Real 'Immortal' Chicken Heart

Ten years later, chickens hatched when Lewis Carrel started his experiment had died of old age: those that hadn't wound up as chicken soup or obscure ingredients in canned food. Carrel's chicken heart kept beating.

Actually, it wasn't a complete chicken heart: but the bit of undying poultry was beating, just as if it was inside a bird. Lewis Carrel wasn't the chap who wrote the Alice books, by the way. That was Lewis Carroll, he was English, his name wasn't Carroll, and that's another topic. Topics.

In 1946, 34 years after it began, folks at the Rockefeller Institute threw the still-living experiment away. Excitement over the prospects of immortality, at least for chicken hearts, faded:
That's the official story, anyway. Now, in the spirit of 100-proof conspiracy theories, is what the Lemming thinks might have happened.

Good Enough for a Story

Lewis Carrel really is Lewis Carroll. He's a space alien secret agent currently masquerading as an "America's Next Top Model" judge. The immortal chicken heart is still alive, working as a CIA spy but really conspiring to disrupt America's economy by organizing fruit flies in California.

- Or -

The CIA/FBI/Big Oil/Big Peanut/whatever assassinated Lewis Carrel and stole the secret formula that was keeping the chicken heart alive. The Rockefeller Institute threw the immortal chicken heart away because they're part of the conspiracy.

No, the Lemming doesn't believe that. At all. Either of those whoppers might make a good story: maybe along the lines of "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"

More of the Lemming's take on conspiracy theories and getting a grip:

Return of the Immortal Chicken Heart: Sort Of

Some of their laboratory (pronounced 'lah-bore-ah-tor-ee) equipment might look like props from " 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' Meets 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,' " but Mark Post's hamburger special is very real.

(from (August 8, 2013))
"Electrical stimulation of muscle cells (left panel) matures early muscle cells (middle panel) into mature skeletal muscle which shows typical transverse striations (right panel, arrows) based on abundance of contractile protein units."

Post and two technicians used a few cells, a lot of science and about 250,000 euros - $325,000 - to grow enough "cultured beef" for a hamburger. Food critics said it was a bit lean, but otherwise quite passable.

Don't look for this at the corner grocery any time soon. The $325,000 burger was a prototype, and there's a lot of work left before cultured beef is available commercially.

When, or if, that happens, folks can buy beef that's grown on a tiny fraction of the land, and with fewer resources, than 'real' beef from something with hooves that goes "moo."

Aside from all-too-predictable fussing about technology, science, and "The Island of Lost Souls," the Lemming doesn't see a problem with cultured beef.

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