Artificial meat may answer food crisis

Updated: 2011-02-17 13:37
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A 21st century American cowboy will resemble a worker in a high-tech plant creating artificial meat in a petri dish, a far cry from cattle ranches, according to biologist Vladimir Mironov.

The growth of "cultured" or in-vitro meat may be a vital step toward solving the global food crisis and fighting hunger in the future, Mironov said.

It may also be used on the first trip to Mars as it's impractical to take a cow on a six-month mission on a space shuttle.

"Think about planetary settlement, for example, or growing density of population," Mironov said. "There is already no land to grow crops in New York or Singapore."

But Mironov, along with fellow researcher Nicholas Genovese, face many challenges in their small cutting-edge laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The amount of meat that can be grown in a laboratory is one problem. T-bone steaks don't grow on trees or overnight under a microscope. But Mironov says creating a steak is not far from becoming reality.

About 10 years ago, Mironov's research dream to grow "cultured meat" became reality when he was awarded a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for cardiovascular tissue engineering.

He landed the grant with the help of Helen Lane, a top NASA food expert Mironov invited to a workshop he hosted.

But the research is no longer funded by NASA, and Mironov said he was told that NASA was moving toward researching transgenic plants as a source of protein.

Now Mironov and Genovese are funded by a three-year grant from the animal rights group People of Ethical Treatment for the Animals.

A tissue engineer by trade, Mironov took embryonic muscle cells called myoblasts, which turn into muscle, from turkey, bathed them in a bovine serum and then grew animal muscle tissue.

The cultured meat choice confronting tomorrow's shoppers will be similar to today's options in the meat department.

North Dakota bioengineer Douglas McFarland has grown myoblast cells from chicken, turkey, lamb, pig and cow, Mironov said.

Mironov finds that liver or "famous French guts pate" is the easiest muscle meat to grow. And he said cultured meat will be "functional, natural, designed food," arguing that modified food is already common practice, and not harmful.

Mironov and Genovese are two of 30 applicants who have been invited to a European Science Foundation workshop on in-vitro meat in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August to discuss the obstacles they all share.

There is also a "yuck factor" to overcome when people know that meat is grown in a lab, although other foods like yogurt have been cultured for years.

"One of the biggest things that people enjoy as a comfort thing is food," said Sam Bowen, a bar manager in Columbia, South Carolina.

"And until people grow up with the idea of artificial meat, it's going to be hard to convince people otherwise."

Funding is one of the biggest hurdles. Along with NASA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture won't fund the research.

The Netherlands, on the other hand, funds in-vitro meat research by its bio-engineers, according to Mironov.

"It looks like Europeans now are taking a lead in development of in-vitro meat technology," Mironov said. "But the original idea was American."


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Artificial meat may answer food crisis

About the broadcaster:

Artificial meat may answer food crisis

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is also fluent in Korean.