Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet Cultured Meat: how do they make that stuff?


The most plausible method for cultured meat production is called the ‘scaffolding technique.’

 Here's how it works:

#1-  STARTING WITH STARTER CELLS - “Starter” cells from domestic animals such as cows or chickens are harvested through a biopsy and placed in very small cultures. (See Figure 1) 

 #2- SCAFFOLDS- The starter cells need a place to grown on.  These are called scaffolds.  (See Figure 2)  The scaffolds are biodegradable and can be made out of edible material such as collagen beads.

 #3 - STARTER + SCAFFOLD- The starter cells are then placed on the scaffolds (see Figure 3).

#4-  MAKING THE CELLS GROW- The scaffolds containing the cells would then be placed in a special type of vat called a bioreactor.  This is pretty similar to how beer or Quorn (soy chik nuggets) is made.
Once placed inside the bioreactor, the starter cells would be a nutritious (but delicious) soup called a growth medium.  (See Figure 4).   The growth medium contains a special mix of  nutrients which would provide natural ‘environmental cues’ that would tell the cells to grow.  (And they do grow-- it's a good thing that cells are so obedient!)

#5- SKINNY MEAT - The result is actual animal meat, but in the form of ultra-thin sheets of muscle cells.   The thin sheets would be vacuumed packed (see Figure 5)  and sent to a meat processing  facility in order to make a ground meat product, such as a hamburger.

#6 - YOU EAT YOUR BURGER-  I think you already know about this step.  (See Figure 6).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet Cultured Meat: what's the difference between cloned meat and cultured meat?

 Growing meat with cultures in vitro is not the same thing as “cloning” meat.  Cloning meat typically involves the cloning of rDNA of prized cattle.  The cloned rDNA is then used to implant livestock such as a cow, pig or sheep when then give birth and are raised in the traditional fashion.  

While sometimes these concepts tend to grouped together, they are very different.  The FDA explicitly excluded cultured meat from its definition of cloning because  cultured meat only involves replication of cells in culture, not cloning of whole animals. 
Ranchers are cloning their prized cattle so that they can increase their meat yields.Unfortunately, cloning of cattle involves all the downsides of traditionally raised livestock (environmental harm, risk of food borne disease, etc).  One fact that many may be surprised to know is that most people have eaten cloned meat, they just don't know it.  I guess I should be more precise--you probably haven't eaten cloned meat just the offspring of cloned meat.  It would be too expensive to eat actual cloned meat, because it costs at least 15 grand to clone just one cow.
Because cultured meat will be grown in safe, clinical conditions, cultured meat has the possibility of reducing the environmental and health risks posed by cloned meat.  While cultured meat has critics of its own, conflation of the concepts is dangerous as the benefits and costs of the two types of biotechnologies differ greatly.

Below is a diagram showing how cultured meat is made.  For more information, you can read my post about how cultured meat is made.  You can also visit how stuff works for an interesting discussion (including videos) that show cultured meat is made.

Blog header image by Dan Salamanunder, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0.