When Will Scientists Grow Meat in a Petri Dish?

Inside-the-meat-lab_1 Jeffrey Bartholet in Scientific American:

It is not unusual for visionaries to be impassioned, if not fanatical­, and Willem van Eelen is no exception. At 87, van Eelen can look back on an extraordinary life. He was born in Indonesia when it was under Dutch control, the son of a doctor who ran a leper colony. As a teenager, he fought the Japanese in World War II and spent several years in prisoner-of-war camps. The Japanese guards used prisoners as slave labor and starved them. “If one of the stray dogs was stupid enough to go over the wire, the prisoners would jump on it, tear it apart and eat it raw,” van Eelen recalls. “If you looked at my stomach then, you saw my spine. I was already dead.” The experience triggered a lifelong obsession with food, nutrition and the science of survival.

One obsession led to another. After the Allies liberated Indonesia, van Eelen studied medicine at the University of Amsterdam. A professor showed the students how he had been able to get a piece of muscle tissue to grow in the laboratory. This demonstration inspired van Eelen to consider the possibility of growing edible meat without having to raise or slaughter animals. Imagine, he thought, protein-rich food that could be grown like crops, no matter what the climate or other environmental conditions, without killing any living creatures.

If anything, the idea is more potent now. The world population was just more than two billion in 1940, and global warming was not a concern. Today the planet is home to three times as many people. According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock business accounts for about 18 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions—an even larger contribution than the global transportation sector. The organization expects worldwide meat consumption to nearly double between 2002 and 2050.