Is meat made any other way still as sweet?

I have spent the last couple of months reading journal articles on food processing and technology. Recently, a review article caught my eye – Meet the new meat: tissue engineered skeletal muscle (Trends in Food Science & Technology Volume 21, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 59-66). Having friends in tissue engineering laboratories that tackle this challenging field of research, I was curious to read what the authors had to say regarding tissue engineering for food stock.

The authors state the case promoting research to develope engineered meats, arguing that the current trends in energy use, land use, and environmental concerns with greenhouse gas emissions dictate the development of alternative meat sources. They list some of the current uses of tissue engineering (such as medical replacement tissue and/or skeletal structure to help mitigate damage caused by disease or accident or for the in vitro study of key metabolic processes) and rely on these experimental results to discuss how they could lead to the generation of artificially produced meat products.

There have been exciting advances in the design and engineering of artificial matrices, which support cell growth, holding promise for the future of medicine and biomedical engineering, although there are many challenges still left to address. (Perspectives and challenges in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, Advanced Materials, 21:  3235-3236, 2009; a good review of current challenges and strategies is covered in the February 10 issue of The Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences). The ability to direct a drug of choice to the area in which it is needed, or to construct a bio-degradable scaffold for the introduction of regenerative tissue to a site of injury will alleviate many diseases which affect our quality of life. But, one thing all these therapies have in common is that they are designed to provide an affected body with the building blocks that will allow it to heal and restore itself.

Engineering and growing muscle tissue without an underlying or enveloping system to provide molecular instructions and guide cellular and structural growth changes the rules of the game. As the authors pointed out in this review, there are many factors that affect the development of the structure and function of muscle tissue. As of now, we do not have a complete understanding about the underlying cellular signaling and molecular decision-making pathways to ensure that the process of engineering and designing artificial meat will provide a sustainable and desirable product for human consumption.

The next barrier facing this research will be to scale up the process. What works at the bench or in a laboratory will not necessarily work in large-scale processes. Although much work has been done scaling up the production of medically relevant products using large fermenters, new plant and equipment design will be needed to address the challenges of tissue manufacturing.

If these challenges were to be met, and palatable genetically engineered meat products were produced, bringing these products to the market would generate another set of obstacles. Resistance to and fear of genetically engineered or modified foods by many people will have to be addressed. Governments and scientists need to educate their constituents and communities about the benefits, risks, and ethical implications of genetic engineered foods. Local and national regulation need to be enacted to provide commerce with direction and oversight.

As excited as I am about the possibility of eating an engineered ‘steak’ or ‘pork chop’, I believe that much work needs to be done before we see the commercialization of genetically engineered meats available for consumption.

Center for Alternative Technology – Paul Allen

Last Friday, Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth Mid-Wales spoke about the centers work during seminar in the Parson’s Lab.  He is the CAT Development Director and co-author of the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) report. Mr. Allen has spent the last month traveling the US from the East Coast to the West Coast by train giving his presentation about the CAT and the ZCB initiative.

The CAT advocates for an environmental policy that integrates current and emerging environmental management practices, new technology, and education to promote sustainable living communities.  Recently they partnered with University of East London to offer graduate programs in Architecture specializing in Environmental and Energy Studies, Renewable energy in the Built Environment, and Ecological Building Practices.  Mr. Allen’s work with CAT and the ZCB report is providing a policy and lifestyle framework which if adopted, can lower their dependency on fossil fuels and imported energy taking Britain a long way on the road to zero carbon emissions and energy independence.  Along the way, I hope they can provide a successful, sustainable environmental management model that can be used by other developed nations.  If you are interested in finding out more about the CAT, make sure to visit them online.

Of Chefs and Scientists

Last night I was watching Iron Chef America and there was a young aspiring chef pitting her culinary skills against Iron Chef Bobby Flay. I am always amazed at how the Iron Chefs prepare and pair their ingredients for the five courses. I started to ask myself, where do the ideas come from? How do they choose the color and the flavor for each dish? How do you choose the method for preparation and presentation?

When I woke up this morning, these thoughts insisted in occupying my mind. Lily and I spend some time discussing the kind of training and dedication that it took to gain a mastery of the skills necessary to achieve the title of chef. There is only so much that you can learn in a classroom.  The lessons learned in the o are then performed and perfected through practice and patience.  I remember my short time as a line cook and of the skill that was needed to keep track of the orders, to assure that the food was well cooked, and to make sure that a whole ticket came up at the same time, no matter how many things were on the ticket. I was really good on the line, but I did not come close to having the skill set or knowing the techniques that separate the good from the great.  I learned very valuable skills for food preparation and  presentation, but I never had the chance to apprentice, to follow a master and learn the secrets of great food design.

I have been extremely fortunate to have had a very different experience with my scientific training.  I have received some of the best academic training one could ho.  The interactions I experienced with my fellow graduate students and with the professors at MIT have honed my analytical and observational skills.  Working in the laboratory and developing the methods that allowed me to look at scientific questions using the best and latest tools gave me the confidence and the courage to branch out and try new research topics and fields.  Life as a postdoctoral associate is furthering my set of tools and tricks.

The real test of a chef’s skills are not on the line, but in how they can assemble ideas, ingredients, and skill in their head to give us dishes that inspire and complement our love for life.  Just like a chef, a true test of a scientist’s skills are not at the bench, but in how they can harness a hypothesis and through their skill, design well throughout experiments that increase our understanding and awe of the world around us.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

TED Logo

I remember the first time I visited the a TED conference (it stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) website.  Jarrett, a good friend who I blogged about, introduced me to a video from Aubrey de Grey called Why we age and how we can avoid it.   de Grey  has very interesting ideas regarding the disease called aging and what modern science and engineering can accomplish to minimize and prevent the causes and effects of aging and dying.  I instantly became hooked on TED!a

Since then I have become a regular visitor to the TED site, logging on and listening to talks ranging from evolution and god, to design and emerging technologies.  This is one of the few places that I can go and get inspired by the stories and the vision of incredible thinkers and doers.  TED expanded my view of the relationship between ideas, design, innovation, and the development of technology to benefit every part of humanity.