The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization produced a report recently called Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options that discussed the current state of meat production in the world and the most likely path that production will take in the next forty years. Currently around 26% of the Earth’s total land surface is occupied by grazing livestock, and 33% of all cropland is dedicated to producing feed crops for the rest of them. (Most in third-world countries where over-farming is contributing to the desertification of previously arable land.) Livestock production contributes a total of about 18% of the planet’s harmful greenhouse emissions, (climate change stuff) and the increased industrialization of livestock production has cause a surge of threatening infectious diseases (both animal and human) the world over.
Currently, these numbers are set to double by 2050… a year I was planning on being around to see.
A confederation of scientists have banded together to see if they can create a solution before the problem causes a major catastrophe. (Radical, eh?) Calling themselves the “In Vitro Meat Consortium”, these dedicated problem solvers have divided up the test-tube-meat pie and are attempting to overwhelm the science by attacking it from as many different angles at once as possible.
The basic premise to creating commercially viable “vat grown” meat is four-fold. The first thing is to find stem cells from the livestock animals you want to replace that you can reproduce at a high enough rate that won’t differentiate themselves into a fetal animal. Step two is to induce the differentiation you want into the stem cells, in this case into muscle cells, that contain at least all the same nutritional elements found in the actual animal. Third is the introduction of a “growth medium” (to make the actual cells bigger) that contains no contaminating animal products. Finally is a way to promote growth into three-dimension muscle structures.
Totally easy, right?
The head of the overall project is Mark Post, a professor of physiology at Maastrict University in the Netherlands. He projects the first burger within twelve months. Projecting forward, Utrect University researchers have calculated that just ten stem cells could produce 50,000 tons of meat with two months’ span, and a study from Oxford University concluded that meat created by this process could consume as much as 60% less total energy, 98% less land, and produce up to 95% less greenhouse gasses.
How much would you pay now? But wait. There’s more.
A Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, professor of surgery at the University of Barcelona in Spain has recently transplanted his second artificial trachea created with a very similar technology in cancer sufferers. Stem cells harvested from the patients themselves were grown into tracheal surface tissue and used to coat donor tracheas, which were transplanted without immuno-suppressors and also without rejection. While the technique is still in it’s infancy, the day is within reach when any body part will be able to be regrown and replaced… or even kept from breaking down at all.
I know many folks will decry all of this as Frankenscience or tampering with things man was not meant to know, but I think that’s a load of crap. We have problems, and just as humans have always done, we shall strive to correct them. For my part I am simply glad that the news seems good for once.