Scientists Grow Meat in the Lab

ByABC News
March 26, 2002, 12:42 PM

March 27 -- For astronauts who might tire of squeeze tube food and sweet potato cereal, researchers are developing ways to grow meat in a tank.

"Most people I know aren't content with nothing but vegetables," said Morris Benjaminson, a researcher at Touro College Applied Bioscience Research Consortium in Bay Shore, N.Y. "They like meat and they like meat to taste good. So I came up with the idea of raising muscle in a growth chamber."

Benjaminson and his team managed to make slices of fish muscle grow bigger in a nutrient solution. Soon he hopes to try the technique to grow chicken and beef.

One of the challenges in launching a possible manned mission to Mars will be in supplying the travelers with an adequate and diverse supply of food for the estimated two-year voyage. Packing all food supplies will be impractical since NASA estimates it now costs about $10,000 a pound to send material into low Earth orbit and many times that to send any kind of material to Mars.

That means astronauts will need to grow much of their food including, perhaps, their meat.

Slice, Plant, Grow

In a NASA-funded project, Benjaminson sliced 2-4-inch sections of flesh from large goldfish and placed them in a nutrient solution of fetal bovine serum, a liquid extracted from the blood of unborn calves. After a few weeks in the solution, Benjaminson said the fish meat grew by up to 16 percent. The results were first reported in New Scientist magazine.

To test the lab-grown meat's appeal, his team showed it to colleagues to analyze for color and fried the meat to assess its aroma. Benjaminson said most considered the fish meat appetizing, although no one actually tasted it since he hasn't won approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Benjaminson, himself, restrained from eating it since he was wary of possible infectious agents from the fetal bovine serum used to grow it.

"I'm just as careful about prions as the next man," he said, referring to the infectious proteins behind mad cow disease.