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Artificial Meat May Soon Be At A Store Near You, And You Won't Know The Difference

Artificial meat, sometimes called in vitro meat, could be grown in lab-like facilities to replace meat from animals. Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption. Scientists estimate that artificial meat may be available in grocery stores within the next decade years and that consumers would not know the difference.

The first-generation products will most likely be ground meat, and a long-term goal is to grow fully developed muscle tissue. Potentially, any animal's muscle tissue could be grown through the in vitro process, even human.

The point of growing meat instead of raising animals for slaughter would be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt the mistreatment of millions of animals. Researchers in Europe have found that generating lab meat could reduce greenhouse gases from animal farming by 96%. Producing artificial meat could also require only one percent of the land used by animal farming, and just four percent of the water.  Artificial meat is would not contain any pesticides or herbicides farm animals can ingest, so they would not be passed onto consumers.

There are, loosely, two approaches for production of in vitro meat: loose muscle cells and structured muscle, the latter one being vastly more challenging than the former. Muscles consist of muscle fibers, long cells with multiple nuclei. They don't proliferate by themselves, but arise when precursor cells fuse. Precursor cells can be embryonic stem cells or satellite cells, specialized stem cells in muscle tissue. Theoretically, it is relatively simple to culture them in a bioreactor and then make them fuse. For the growth of real muscle, however, the cells should grow "on the spot," which requires a perfusion system akin to a blood supply to deliver nutrients and oxygen close to the growing cells, as well as to remove the waste products. In addition, other cell types, such as adipocytes, need to be grown, and chemical messengers should provide clues to the growing tissue about the structure. Lastly, muscle tissue needs to be physically stretched or "exercised" to properly develop.

Even PETA has endorsed the idea of artificial meat because if it ever became viable and affordable, using it would greatly reduce the suffering of a tremendous number of animals.  The artificial meat comes from animal cells that are processed to replicate, and create more muscle tissue. NASA was one of the first organizations to attempt creating artificial meat in order to investigate its use for astronauts in space. A Dutch medical doctor has also been working on the development of artificial meat. In the 1930s Winston Churchhill reportedly said, “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

Currently the process for creating artificial meat is labor intensive, complex and very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that it would not be an affordable product in any marketplace. In time, with more research, it might begin to find a place in human society. In the meantime, if you want to reduce your impact on the planet you can simply eat less meat from farm animals, or stop completely. Artificially created meat should not be confused with imitation meat, which is often made from soy or wheat gluten, and eaten by vegetarians.


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