Stem cells: a meaty issue


I have no doubt that NASCAR-flavored bacon will be a big hit with red-state folks, but what about those of us in the blue states who love a good cheeseburger "“ and also were moved by the "little tortured baby cow" episode of South Park? What are ethically-minded carnivores supposed to eat? If scientists have their way, we'll soon be chowing down on test-tube hamburgers. Researchers have already been able to grow mouse and frog meat from stem cells in Petri dishes "“ the latter aimed at the French, I guess "“ as well as non-descript mystery meat that could be used in burgers and spaghetti sauce. Within five years they hope to have cultured beef, pork, and chicken on the market (insert "tastes like chicken" joke here).


The idea of lab-grown meat isn't actually all that new. Cold War-era Soviet scientists managed to create protein-producing bacteria. Alas, they were more nutritious than delicious; they smelled so bad no one would eat them. NASA kicked off its own project in 2001 with the kind of haute cuisine only a cat could love: goldfish. The agency was trying to figure out if astronauts could grow their own poisson on long journeys, but it eventually dropped the project, and since then funding for this kind of stuff has been a little scarce. Test-tube chicken takes killing animals and fouling the environment out of the equation, but it's still icky, which means there's not a huge market. (Mangesh, you're a vegetarian "“ would you eat this?) One researcher was approached by a group that offered him a big chunk of funding, with a caveat: they didn't want him to grow frog, or mouse, or even beef muscle. They wanted their lab-grown meat served with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Yep "“ meat from human stem cells. Bon appetit!