Now is the time to enjoy the food-you have a good steak in front of you, and a more expensive beef “raised” in the laboratory. Both beef portions exude a mouth-watering aroma, and both look quite delicious, and you can only choose one portion. What is your choice? Most people may choose the former. After all, in most people’s minds, natural is good. However, as the population increases, can traditional agriculture still meet human needs? Some researchers have begun to move agricultural production to laboratories, using more environmentally friendly methods to produce safer food, which is called “cellular agriculture”.
Beef without cows,
Milk without cows
Cell agriculture is actually the use of cell cultures to grow agricultural products in the laboratory. Although this is a new scientific discipline, related technologies have been applied as early as the 20th century, but they were not used to produce food at that time. What makes cell agriculture known to the world should be the beef burger that cost $330,000 in 2013. This burger is the world’s first patties made from beef raised in the laboratory. (In 2017, the price of this burger has dropped to $11.36). But apart from lamenting its high price, ordinary people may also have doubts-is this kind of food really edible? What is it made of?
In fact, to put it simply, the only ingredients used to “raise” a beef patty in a hamburger are cow cells and nutrient solution. Researchers will first extract “muscle satellite cells” from cow muscle, which are muscle stem cells. Muscle satellite cells are very “capable” cells. When an animal’s muscles are injured, they can help produce new muscle tissue. Because of this feature, muscle satellite cells are very suitable for meat cultivation.
After these cells are tested, they will be put into a bioreactor, which contains nutrients and cell growth factors in the medium. The medium creates favorable conditions for the growth of muscle satellite cells, making them proliferate as if they were in an animal body. In the reactor, a small sample of muscle satellite cells can proliferate to trillions of cells. When we want these cells to differentiate into muscle cells, just stop adding growth factors to them and they will differentiate themselves. The muscle cells naturally fuse to form a “myotube”, which is a primitive muscle fiber no more than 0.3 mm long. Then the myotube can be placed in a gel containing 99% water, which helps the cells to form muscle fibers. shape. The natural contractility of muscle cells causes them to start to grow larger and grow into a small strand of muscle tissue.
With the current technology, it is not possible to obtain thick meat slices in the laboratory, because when the muscle tissue becomes thick, it is difficult to ensure the normal growth of each cell. Therefore, if you want to get a piece of meatloaf, you can only superimpose the muscle tissue on together. It is estimated that with a sample obtained from a cow, 800 million muscle tissues can be produced (about 80,000 standard-sized hamburger patties can be made).
Of course, the production of cellular agriculture does not necessarily only use living or once living cells, but also microorganisms. Take milk as an example. Milk is made of a mixture of different proteins and fats. The current cellular agriculture technology can use microorganisms to produce these components. For example, to produce casein in milk (the key protein in milk), the casein The protein gene is implanted in yeast, and the yeast can produce casein. Other ingredients can also be produced in this way. In the end, you only need to mix the ingredients in a certain proportion to obtain milk without the participation of cows.
Hope for future food?
It is undeniable that cell agriculture has many advantages, but is it really the hope of human food in the future?
How to cultivate meat?
Demand for meat
From the environmental impact, food production in the laboratory seems to be able to avoid many problems, such as not requiring a large area of land, not consuming a lot of water and energy, some research data seems to confirm this. In a study, data showed that greenhouse gas emissions from the global livestock industry alone accounted for about 18% of all emissions. The results of another study showed that the land, water and energy consumed by cellular agriculture to produce one ton of beef are only 1% of the land required by the livestock industry to produce the same weight of beef, and the water required is 4% and about half. Energy. Moreover, cellular agriculture also reduces the environmental damage caused by raising animals.
From the perspective of food safety, the food produced by cellular agriculture seems to be highly safe. For example, the production process does not use antibiotics like traditional agriculture, which can reduce the impact of antibiotics on humans who eat these agricultural products. Cellular agriculture does not require breeding and slaughter of animals, which can reduce food contamination by harmful bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
However, too clean can also bring new problems. Natural meat has a specific group of microorganisms. These microorganisms are more competitive than harmful foreign bacteria and can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Although the meat produced by cellular agriculture is sterile, this meat is more attractive to bacteria and more likely to breed bacteria, which may contain harmful bacteria and cause food poisoning.
Another important problem is that the food produced in the laboratory is not so delicious. We all know that in a food, taste is contributed by the cooperation of different types of organizations. For example, meat is not only pure muscle, it also contains fat, and the fat in it gives it an attractive taste after being cooked. But now the meat of livestock produced by cell agriculture is mainly composed of muscle, and only muscle tissue is cultivated. To obtain a whole piece of meat, the muscle tissue can only be pressed together. In this way, the natural taste and texture of meat cannot be obtained naturally.
It seems that if cellular agriculture is to replace traditional agriculture, there are still many problems to be solved. But in any case, a serious problem lies before us-the global population is increasing. It is estimated that by 2050, the global population will reach 9-11 billion. By then, can we still rely on traditional agriculture to feed so many people?
Therefore, more and more scientific research institutions and enterprises are now joining the development of cell agriculture. Forecasts show that by 2040, cell cultured meat will account for 35% of the total meat consumption in the world, while natural cultured meat The class will drop to 40%. With the development of technology, perhaps at such a critical moment, cell agriculture will stand out and become the “superman” that solves human food.