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Lab grown meat will be a big deal

Reading the Singularity Hub this morning, I was surprised by the following statistics:

  • The total world meat supply grew from 71m tons in 1961 to 284m tons in 2007, and is expected to double again by 2050, driven by a combination of population growth and increasing per capita meat consumption
  • Around 67 billion animals are slaughtered each year for their meat (worldwide)
  • Livestock production uses up c30% of the world’s ice free land and produces almost 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases (more than the amount produced by global transportation)

The environmental, land use and ethical benefits to be had from artificially producing meat are huge. These numbers suggest that the quest for artificial meat is as important as the quest for sources of sustainable energy.

The good news is that progress is being made towards lab produced meat. Researcher Mark Post has announced that his lab is growing burgers in petri dishes and expects to have one fit for human consumption this autumn. This is how the cultivation process works:

Cultured meat begins with muscle cells taken from the rear of a cow for sirloin steak, for instance, or from the area surrounding a pig’s spine for growing pork chops. The cells are then placed in a nutrient mixture that helps them to proliferate. A biodegradable scaffold guides the cells as they grow together to eventually form muscle tissue. Making a hamburger requires joining these pieces of tissue into a coherent whole.

They will need a more consumer friendly description of the process if this is ever to go mass market! It looks like that point is still years away though.

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