Are cows next? And then...burgers? [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

A couple of weeks ago various news sources ran headlines announcing that scientists have figured out how to make artificial meat.* Basically the hullabaloo is that, for the first time, meat has been made in the lab (fish have been cultured previously).

Here's the quick summary: Some scientists in the Netherlands cultured meat in their labs from animal stem cells. Muscle tissue from pigs was made into, well, more pig—or as Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, describes it to The Sunday Times, "wasted muscle tissue." This initial step isn't all that exciting in and of itself, but it points to a braver, newer porcine world, and as mentioned in The Sunday Times, the experiments "pave the way for laboratory-grown chicken, beef and lamb."

The folks behind all of this see their work as an answer to the meat quandary. Of course, that quandary isn't related to meat's quality, but rather the quantities of it we eat. Even at the population numbers we have today, there would be no sustainable way to raise enough cattle to feed everyone, if everyone ate like we do here in America. When considering the population growth curves that are predicted (and how delicious hamburgers are), something's got to give. The prospect of cultivating meat through techniques similar to the ones reported on in the Netherlands would offer a solution, but the question that I can't help asking is, "Would it be a tasty one?

The scientists describe the substance as being similar to "soggy pork," which sounds like—well, I'll let Jon Stewart describe it:

The Daily Show: December 2, 2009: We Did It! - Artificial Meat

If I'm honest with you, "soggy pork" doesn't gross me out. I've had many a tasty pulled pork sandwich that could have been fairly described as "soggy." The larger question that these findings pose has to do with our relationship to eating meat and its status as "natural." Personally, if it tastes good and it's a humane, sustainable option, I wouldn't hesitate to put it on a bun and call it lunch. I'm just not so sure I'd still order it medium rare.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I love reading about this stuff. In fact, my first foray into blogging came was writing for Correlations, the group blog that accompanied the television show WIRED Science (on which I served as a writer and producer). There we covered all manner of science that sounds like fiction. In the context of amazing things I watched scientists do, the actual science behind the artificial meat seems tame. It's the future that it may prevent that makes these findings so wild.


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