In vitro ME
How far are you willing to go to continue eating meat?
Year of project: 2013
At Next Nature Lab, TU/e
Part of Meat the Future
Our current meat is not sustainable due to its inefficient protein conversion rate, the production of greenhouse gases, and the need for massive areas of agricultural land. If the world wants to continue eating meat, we are going to need alternatives. Scientists believe that in vitro meat might prove a good replacement for current meat products. They predict that “cultured meat” will eventually use far less water and energy and can reduce CO² emissions by 96%.
In vitro meat is meat grown outside the body of a living organism. The basic principle is that one stem cell multiplies into many stem cells, after which these cells specialize into muscle cells and form large muscle fibers which eventually become meat. But in a world in which meat is scarce, how far will consumers be willing to go to continue eating meat?
Would it influence the consumer’s decision if they played an active role in the production of meat—that is, if they realized how much energy and raw material it takes to produce a piece of meat? Would a meat eater be willing to use their own body as a production site? Would they be willing to grow meat from their own muscle tissue?
IN VITRO ME - THE CONCEPT
In Vitro ME is a personal bioreactor-jewel which enables the production of human muscle tissue—a speculative design project to make people aware of the resources needed to produce meat. Since it will most likely cost us more energy to produce human meat than we will gain from consuming it, the process cannot be considered very efficient. But the question is, should it be efficient?
The personal bioreactor-jewel nestles down on your chest, where it cultivates human muscle tissue. The direct connection between the body and the bioreactor enables the exchange of heat, nutrients, oxygen and waste substances in order to create “personal meat” for consumption. In other words, the jewel uses your body as a production site. Fed with your own blood and “trained” according to your level of activity, this self-grown meat is a direct translation of your lifestyle. This way, you literally eat what you are and are what you eat.
HOW IT WORKS
Myoblasts (a cluster of muscle cells) obtained from human muscle tissue are placed onto the amulet, laying on top of a 3D-printed edible grid (myoblasts are preferable to stem cells, as they are certain to grow into muscle cells). The printed grid contains an artificial vascular system, which is connected to one’s own vascular system; this allows for blood to flow and substances to diffuse in and out of the myoblast cells.
As oxygen and nutrients are obtained through our vascular system, the waste substances (such as CO2) are released back into the blood circulation and filtered inside our body. Throughout this process, the cells receive the same amount of substance as they would receive in vivo (inside the body).
Would the production and consumption of human in vitro meat constitute cannibalism? “Cannibalism” describes the act of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings—so does this term apply to eating one’s own flesh? Acceptance and personal boundaries will play a major role in the discussion of whether eating self-produced flesh from muscle cells is cannibalism or not.
However, eating human flesh may come with several health risks. Kuru is an example of a fatal brain disease caused by cannibalism, which appeared in the Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. This means that, even if In Vitro ME were feasible today, it would not be wise to recommend the consumption of human cultured meat at our current stage of evolution. But who knows where evolution will lead us...