Over the past few years, researchers have been working on methods to make in vitro meat by growing animal muscle cells in a dish. These scientists hope that this “lab meat” could eliminate wasteful production of farm animals for food by developing slabs of steak from a small Petri dish. Mark Post, a researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is the forerunner of this research. Using myosatellite cells, adult stem cells that are responsible for muscle growth and repair, and regular cell-culture medium to grow his in vitro meat. This medium contains fetal calf serum, which kind of defeats the point of synthetic meat since it comes from dead cows. This serum also contains antibiotics and anti-fungal agents that could be harmful to humans if ingested. Unfortunately, there is no other economically reasonable medium available for him to use currently, but other researchers are close to developing a cheap, animal-free growth serum. In addition to this, the myosatellite cells usually only divide about a dozen times because their telomeres weaken with age. Ways to get around this include adding a gene for the repair enzyme telomerase or adding a tumor-growth-promoting gene. Of course, the latter might be hard selling point to future consumers, but this research is still in its infancy so there is no telling what might happen.
After multiplying the cells by using the growth media, the cells are then grown onto something resembling a scaffold which causes these cells to fuse into myofibers. These myofibers then bundle together to make up muscle. Unfortunately, these “lab muscles” are weak and textureless. Post uses electrical shocks and assembles the myofibers between anchor points to help strengthen them. What about texture and taste? Fortunately, myosatellite cells can turn into fat, which adds to taste. Researchers also believe that if they can get the texture right, more taste will follow, especially when flavoring is added. Besides developing the taste, scientists also need to devise a way to add important nutrients such as iron or vitamin b to this meat. The main obstacle that is preventing this research from progressing is funding. Scientists interested in this research are having a difficult time finding organizations willing to pay for the costly expense that arise in this field. It makes you wonder how expensive it will be to commercialize in vitro meat if research and development were to ever take it that far.
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Posted by Kevin McLaughlin (2)