Howdy, howdy –
So, here we are: August. Between research and travel, I’ve been having a pretty crazy summer. I’ve probably mentioned it before but I’m scurrying around, preparing for my year abroad in Scotland. I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing even the monthly posts while I’m over there, but, hey, you never know! Maybe I’ll learn some really awesome chemistry stuff. Actually, it’s pretty likely that I’ll post some pics of their fancy science building….
Despite the fact that my posts have slowed to a trickle, science has been flying along at warp speed in the last few weeks. I was torn between a post on 3-D printers and a post on lab-grown hamburger. It turns out that there’s not a whole lot of chemistry involved in 3-D printing (which I have to admit, doesn’t make it any less incredible). Since I’ll be saving the printers for a rainy day, you can read about them here.
The meat, on the other hand, is pretty hardcore biochem. The scientist in the news is Professor Mark Post, but he’s got a whole team of food scientists, technicians, and even a chef working on the project (1).
Why all the fuss about making fake meat? There are a couple of great videos on the Maastricht University Cultured Meat website explaining the reasons for embarking on this meat-making endeavor. Obviously, there’s a strong bias in the videos because, well, the university’s funding the research. But that said, I think it’s a strong argument.
So…environmental damage, animal cruelty, health, and energy efficiency aside, there’s some interesting science going on here. A few years ago, “stem cell research” was a real hot button in the news, but we seem to have gotten over that. The stem cells used to make fake meat obviously aren’t from human babies (let’s not even go there). Instead, the stem cells for test-tube meat are painlessly extracted from an organic cow. Remember when I talked about artificial and natural flavors? The “meat” being produced here is kind of like using an artificial flavor in that it’s chemically identical. The test-tube meat is beef in the same way that the molecule made in a lab for banana flavoring is truly the same as the molecule that comes from actual banana. We know this because we’ve looked at the molecule and constructed it exactly. Scientists are aware of the components of meat, it’s just a matter of getting them put together the way nature intended. It’s not “fake” meat or a meat “substitute,” which is a little hard to wrap your head around.
I hope you don’t think I’m copping out for using the videos, but I can’t really beat the super exciting animations:
Right now, the patties are massively expensive to produce because of the time, resources, and scientists that are involved in the project. The hope is that test-tube meat will be mass-producable, making it as available to the public as beef is now. On August 5th, one of these patties made its rite of passage from the lab to the dinner plate. Again, just like artificial banana flavoring, the taste wasn’t quite that of a hamburger. But it’s quite the first step. Here’s the taste test video, with the tasters being uber careful and not giving any real opinions.
Even if you’re not into meatless Mondays and cashew cheese, hopefully the sci-fi level research piques your interest. The website (source 1) has a lot of great info on the cultured beef stuff, including FAQs. It’s worth checking out.
Also worth checking out (another bias, sorry) is my webcomic: http://justforsquares.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-talk.html
And that’s the news!
Hopefully, there will be a September post. Stay on your toes, and thanks for reading!