(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- Next time you fire up the grill for a backyard barbecue, think about this: at some point in the future, those steaks sizzling over the flames might not come from livestock, but a lab.
For some scientists, so-called "test-tube" meat has been the dream of decades. And fueled by concerns about the consequences of meat consumption for our health, the environment and animal welfare, the movement is gaining momentum.
At universities in the U.S. and Europe, researchers are working to develop lab-grown meat that looks and tastes like the real deal. And one leading bioengineer said he's even drawing up a business plan for a start-up that would bring synthetic meat to market.
"I think the future of human food, is food that becomes not just a way to survive, but also a way to become better," said Dr. Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Most people try to imitate natural meat -- it must be the same taste, texture, structure. What I want to say is that we can create better than nature -- not just food, but a 'nutraceutical.'"
Do you like your steak extra fatty or wish that it could boost your brain power? Mironov said that with a little bit of bioengineering those benefits can be baked into a final product.
For the past decade, Mironov has been working to develop lab-grown meat from stem cells bathed in a nutrient-rich bioreactor mixture. With the help of Nicholas Genovese, a research associate funded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), he's experimented with ways to engineer nutrition and taste into cultured meat. Now, he's working up plans to turn his research into a diner's reality.
To make cultured, or in vitro, meat, scientists take the cells from an animal and then let them grow in a plant-based mixture of nutrients. As the cells develop, they attach to a natural scaffold (or biodegradable foundation) to create the muscle tissue that comprises meat -- all without the raising and slaughtering of animals.
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