Over the years there have been a lot of interesting, odd ball, even a few really rather crazy stories about stem cell research that have made the news. So in honor of Halloween, we thought we’d look back at a few of them to remind ourselves that not all science is worthy of pursuit.
Back in 2014 a company called BiteLabs claimed it was going to make “fine artisanal salami from meat that has been lab-grown from celebrity tissue samples.” You read that right. They were going to make salami from famous people.
Here’s how they described the process. First they would take a small sample of stem cells from the celebrity, the kind of cell that is used to grow and repair damaged muscles. Then they would grow those cells in the lab, increasing their number to millions of muscle cells. Those are then ground up, mixed with regular salami and some spices, fats and oils until you had the desired consistency and texture.
Then they were stuffed into casings, and dried, aged and cured until you end up with celebrity salami.
Not surprisingly it attracted a lot of attention. The Twitterverse was filled with images of celebrities people wanted to “eat” – Jennifer Lawrence, ‘a new kind of Hunger Games’. It was also filled with headlines from magazines like Cosmopolitan asking “Is this the weirdest food of all time”.
Turns out it was more of a joke, or at least a fun way to get people discussing bioethics and pushing the boundaries – or maybe it was the buttons – of tech and society.
Meet the most expensive meat in the world
If that was meant to be a joke then some researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands didn’t get it. Because the next year they actually produced a burger that was made out of stem cells.
They took some bovine – aka ‘cow’ – stem cells, grew them in the lab (this took three months so definitely not a “fast food”), then mixed them with salt, breadcrumbs and egg and cooked them in a little butter and sunflower oil.
People who tried it described it as “tough” and “not that juicy”. Harder to stomach than the burger itself was the price tag, more than $300,000.
A mammoth task
It’s not just meat that is attracting the attention of stem cell researchers. More recently a team of Korean and Russian scientists decided it might be fun to try and use stem cells to “grow” a mammoth. You know, the giant, woolly, elephant-like creatures that went extinct thousands of years ago – except for occasional starring roles in the Ice Age animated movies.
They were going to take some DNA from the remnants of a mammoth found in the frozen tundra in Siberia, decode its genome, then create a functioning cell nucleus and transplant that into an elephant’s embryo. Easy right? What could possible go wrong (for some suggestions see Jurassic Park/World).
Maybe if that doesn’t work out they could just grow the cells into meat and market them. Mammoth burgers. Sounds yummy doesn’t it.