Creating salmon, beef, pork and chicken from cell cultures is currently the next frontier that startups and scientists are pushing. Die Erzeugung von Lachs, Rind-, Schweine- und Hühnerfleisch aus Zellkulturen ist derzeit das nächste Ziel, das Start-ups und Wissenschaftler vorantreiben. Synthetic biology – or Synbio -, cultured meat or cruelty free meat is what proponents want to call it, synthetic protein product from cow cells is what opponents want to call it. And there are plenty of the latter.
It is not only agriculture that sees itself threatened; opponents of technology see it as mankind’s Promethean megalomania. Prometheus, as is well known, had brought fire and thus civilization to mankind, against the express wishes of the other gods.
But simply replacing natural meat (from animals) in the reactor with synthetically produced meat is too linear a way of thinking, because unimagined new possibilities are opening up as to how something like this might taste and what else can be done with meat from cell cultures.
The meat of the future
First of all, then nothing prevents us from producing not only the same chicken, pork or beef, but why not the pork chicken – or pig? And it maybe right away with a slight acorn flavor, as we know and appreciate from the wild boar in the Iberian ham (Jamón ibérico).
Even if such meat seems very artificial at first, let’s not forget that almost all foods and their raw materials that we eat today are the result of thousands of years of human cultivation of nature. Neither cereals, fruits, vegetables, nor the meats or drinks existed in this way thousands of years ago. We bred them according to our needs. In fact, with the advent of more complex technology in our food manufacturing process, entirely new food groups could be created. Cornflakes and other breakfast cereals are absolutely artificial. Wine, beer and spirits are artificially created beverages.
And while we’re at it, why not add vitamins and medications to this meat to make it easier for us to take them? This idea is not new; already today, for example, our table salt is mixed with iodine to prevent thyroid diseases caused by iodine deficiency. Cough syrup and other medicines for children are often added sweetener and fruit flavor, which causes much less resistance when taken by children. And in areas where people don’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables and thus suffer from vitamin deficiencies, other foods artificially infused with vitamins could help overcome those deficiencies.
Tissues & Organs
But what if we use cell culture technology not only for food, but to create tissues and even organs from it? This is more difficult than it sounds, because unlike cell-cultured meat, which is currently nothing more than a relatively simple paste, tissues and organs are more complex. The structure and enforcement with nerves and blood vessels requires a different manufacturing method. If that were to succeed, it would be promising. Re-growing burned skin or a kidney from the body’s own cells eliminates a number of problems that exist today with donor organs. The body’s defensive reactions and the resulting drug suppression of these and all the associated side effects, or simply the often limited availability of donor organs, could thus be circumvented.
Orbillion CEO Patricia Bubner also prodded me about another use for cell-cultured tissue. We may remember an iconic scene from the movie Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, where he is in his quarters as this killing machine from the future, repairing himself. In the process, he cuts the skin on his right forearm. Underneath, the metallic robotic scaffold is revealed, which he repairs and then reseals the overlying tissue.
Killer robots do well in Hollywood movies, but here we see another application: today’s robots that lift, turn, bend and weld heavy metal frames in factories are perceptually blind. They do not recognize objects around them that have nothing to do with their actual task. Because they can exert great forces, they must be locked in cages to which humans have no access while they are in operation.
But more and more robots will come into direct contact with humans. From small household helpers to autonomous cars, these will surround us and share our immediate space. This requires perception-sensitive robots that recognize people and animals so as not to harm them.
But sensors that are distributed over the entire body of a robot are not that cheap and easy to install. We still remember the case of a security guard robot on duty at the Stanford Shopping Mall that rolled over a toddler. Wie wäre es nun, wenn wir solches zellgezüchtetes Gewebe à la Terminator auf die Körper von Robotern anwenden könnten? Such a hybrid would be able to perceive other living beings and thus better protect us and itself.
This is also an interesting way of looking at hybrid forms. While we humans are increasingly turning into cyborgs as technologies we attach to and in our bodies (we think of vaccines, drugs, hearing aids, breast enhancements, artificial joints, eyeglasses, or even clothing), robots are coming from the other side. They become real androids.
“I am celebrity, eat me!”
Those who find cell-cultured beef or salmon from the reactor too boring, but at the same time want to live out their cannibalistic instincts, can also be served by the future of food. Why not remove and cultivate the body’s own cells? I could gorge myself on my own Mario schnitzel.
Or maybe it can promise eroticism in romantic candlelight when your date serves you blood sausage made from cell-cultured, endogenous juices? Christianity has been preparing us for this for thousands of years: Bread and wine are synonymous with the body and blood of Christ.
This could open up new sources of income for celebrities or influencers. Lionel Messi could think of selling steak from his thigh cells. The Brad Pitt burger is sure to find its fans, as is the Angelina Jolie lasagna. To not only be close to one’s idols, but to devour them at the same time, has something to do with overly exaggerated fan love. In any case, there are no limits to the imagination.
However, whether I myself would try such meat, I can not say today …