Native Village
Youth and Education news
March 1, 2010     Volume 3

No Swine Fluke: Scientists Turn Stem Cells Into Pork
Maria Cheng
Condensed by Native Village

Netherlands: Call it pork in a Petri dish.

Since 2006, Dutch scientists have been using pig stem cells to grow pork in a laboratory.  While the texture isn't quite right, and scientists have yet to taste it, the engineered meat could have a large impact on our food supply.

"If we took the stem cells from one pig and multiplied it by a factor of a million, we would need one million fewer pigs to get the same amount of meat," said Mark Post from Maastricht University.

Maastricht is part of the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of Dutch research institutions involved in the experiments.  Others countries have also tried to replicate meat.  In the U.S., NASA funded similar research with hopes that astronauts could grow their own meat in space. But after disappointing results, NASA decided the astronauts would eat vegetarian.)

To make laboratory pork, pig stem cells are placed into a nutrient-based soup that helps cells replicate. So far, scientists have only created meat strips about 1 centimeter long. It would take 30 days to make a small pork chop.

Post describes the meat's texture to scallops -- firm, but a little squishy and moist. That's because the lab meat has only 80% protein, while livestock meat is about 99%. The rest of the lab meat is mostly water and nucleic acids.

Post said these strips could be used in sausages or hamburgers, but the lower protein content means it probably doesn't like pork.

Some experts warn that lab-made meats might be dangerous for human health. "With any new technology, there could be subtle impacts that need to be monitored," said Emma Hockridge from Soil Association, Britain's leading organic organization.

Hockridge said it will take time to prove the new technology doesn't harm humans. She also said organic farming relies on crop and livestock rotation. Taking animals out of the equation could damage the ecosystem.

Some experts doubt lab-produced meat could ever match the taste of real meat.

"What meat tastes like depends not just on the genetics, but what you feed the animals at particular times," said Peter Ellis from King's College London. "Part of our enjoyment of eating meat depends on the very complicated muscle and fat structure...whether that can be replicated is still a question."

Experts say that eating lab meat instead of raising animals would do wonders for the environment.  It could lower greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95%. Land and water use would also drop by about 95%. And, while livestock eat huge amounts of traditional crops, lab meat is nurtured with only a few nutrients like amino acids, fats and natural sugars.

"In theory, if all the meat was replaced by cultured meat, it would be huge for the environment,"  said Hanna Tuomisto from Oxford University. "One animal could produce many thousands of kilograms of meat."

Tuomisto said the technology could increase the world's meat supply and help fight global hunger.



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