A few years ago, researchers at NASA fried up several chunks of vat-grown fish meat in a little olive oil, garlic, lemon and pepper, and remarked on it’s striking to similarity to real fish (without going so far as tasting it). These scientists had successfully coaxed a few small chunks of fish muscle to grow inside a vat of nutrient-rich liquid, marking a scientific first.

Their aim was to develop a means for astronauts to produce edible meat for use on long voyages, such as a trip to Mars. Vat-grown meat offers a good source of protein, and would be a welcome change from the usual freeze-dried fare. But it isn’t very appetizing, particularly considering that meat developed in this way is essentially a cultured muscle tumor.

More recent efforts at the University of Maryland have led to some new methods which may prove useful on the road to Meatville, with the intent to bring “in vitro” meat to the masses. And they think they may be able to improve on nature’s recipe while they’re at it.

From the UniverseToday article:

“There would be a lot of benefits from cultured meat,” says Matheny, who studies agricultural economics and public health. “For one thing, you could control the nutrients. For example, most meats are high in the fatty acid Omega 6, which can cause high cholesterol and other health problems. With in vitro meat, you could replace that with Omega 3, which is a healthy fat.”Cultured meat could also reduce the pollution that results from raising livestock, and you wouldn’t need the drugs that are used on animals raised for meat.”

Jason Matheny and his team suggest two viable approaches for the meat-o-matic of the future: It could be grown on thin, flat membranes and then stacked to achieve thickness; or it could be cultured on tiny beads, then harvested and made into processed meats like chicken nuggets or ground beef. Either way, to get the taste and texture right, the meat will need to be stretched and exercised as it goes, just like a real animal muscle would be.

This technology could spell the end of moral vegetarianism, since animals would no longer be part of the meat-producing process. But it raises some interesting questions… For instance, would it be acceptable to use one of these machines to produce meat based on human muscle tissue? Practically speaking, human meat is extremely nutritious to humans, and such vat-grown man-burgers would not have originated from a human. There would also be no risk of cannibalism-related diseases. But on the other hand…there’s even more meat.

Because the idea of vat meat isn’t particularly appetizing, one has to wonder whether these meat machines will become the source of cheap meat for the massive underclass of the future. The rich will dine on corn-fed Iowa beef while the poor masses slave away in the underground factories, lunching on cultured meat tumor-chow laced with obedience-enhancing drugs. It seems almost inevitable.

If the world embraces the technology, all of this might one day be accomplished by an appliance churning away on your kitchen counter… producing whatever meat you desire from a small packet of “seed” cells. Gone would be the concerns of animal welfare, slaughterhouse cleanliness, and livestock-related environmental impact. In theory, one cell of meat could be cultured enough to provide for the meat demands of the entire world.