Meat grown in a petri dish? Missouri researcher explores the possibility

The Kansas City StarJuly 25, 2011 

COLUMBIA, Missouri — Nicholas Genovese is a lab-coated collection of incongruities.

He’s being bankrolled by an animal-rights group to make meat.

The molecular biologist is working in a lab at a land-grant university that pulls in millions in grants for its research on livestock. Yet the money backing him pushes the desire to end the use of animals as food.

And the guy he answers to at the University of Missouri makes clear that he sees just three reasons for a cow to exist: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Genovese's work explores a hope — certainly distant, perhaps fanciful — to grow muscle meat separate from an animal. It would start in a laboratory and move to a factory. It aims for a world that would leave both meat lover and animal lover with a satisfied burp.

“One of the interesting things about being a human being is that we advance things,” Genovese said. “Think of what we’ve done in the last several years with computers and cellphones. … Why can’t we make the same kind of advances with food?”

Whether you refuse to eat anything with a face or can’t enjoy a patio party without indulging your carnivorous side, Genovese thinks the petri dishes he’s toying with now may yield part of an answer to make you guilt-free and satiated. The technology is touted by those concerned about animal cruelty, energy shortages and climate change.

But the path to meat without feet won’t be easy. It would rework Midwestern agriculture, which is centered on raising grain that feeds livestock. And it won’t come without resistance that starts, for many, in the gut.

“We really need to figure out what we’re putting in our bodies rather than making something bigger and cheaper,” said Michael Foust, the owner and chef at The Farmhouse restaurant in Kansas City’s River Market. “If I served it, I’d be out of business in a week.”

Nobody will be serving it anytime soon. And the work Genovese is doing at Columbia isn’t directly about making meat. Rather it involves research about self-replicating cells that might solve just one of the many technological and industrial obstacles that stand between you and animal-free meat.

But if he and the handful of other scientists can overcome the herd of practical problems, so-called cultured meat could end what some people consider mass animal cruelty — eliminating the need for operations that jam cattle in feed lots, stuff hogs in massive containment barns or crowd chickens in places where they never see the sun.

“There’s the potential to continue to produce meat while you reduce an enormous amount of factory farming,” said Paul Shapiro, who advocates farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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