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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Cultivating Meat

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Sarah Williams reports on a new product that could soon hit the deli department: lab-grown meat.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, the greening of the internet. Nature films moved to the web. First this Note on Emerging Science from Sarah Williams.

WILLIAMS: If the thought of slaughtering an animal makes you queasy at the sight of meat, but soy burgers just don’t do it for you, you may have an alternative. Using new tissue engineering technology, researchers from the U.S. and the Netherlands have found a way to grow tissues from cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish.

The scientists first isolate a single muscle cell from an animal, and allow this cell to divide and form a tissue. Then they grow sheets of muscle tissues on a thin membrane and stack the membranes together to form a slab of meat.

Researchers can also grow the muscle cells on tiny beads to make processed meats, such as chicken nuggets or ground beef. Under the right conditions, researchers say cells can proliferate so fast that, in theory, a single cell could produce enough meat to feed the world for a year. This “cultured meat” could be healthier for consumers than meat from factory-farm-raised-livestock, which can contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, hormones, and unhealthy contaminants.

Researchers say they can also manipulate nutritional content. For example, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the kind found in fish oils, could replace the less desirable omega-6 fatty acids typically found in most meat. The team claims their meat has just as much flavor as what you get at the local butchers. It’s the texture that’s the problem. Meat grown in the lab is tough compared to the meat off living animals that constantly stretch their muscles. To get a more tender texture in the lab, researchers will literally have to find a way to exercise their cultured meat. That’s this week’s note on Emerging Science. I’m Sarah Williams.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, online at mott dot org, supporting efforts to promote a just, equitable, and sustainable society; the Kresge Foundation, building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at kresge.org; the Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, from vision to innovative impact, 75 years of philanthropy. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: David Ross McDonald “Old Nacs Tractor” from ‘Southern Crossing’ (2002) ]



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