Reason for a New Age

Technologies that are Going to Change the World – Vat-Grown Produce

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/10/17


As the title indicates, I’d like to discuss some of the technologies that can be seen today that are likely to have a great impact on humanity in the future. When that future may be, who can say — 20 years? 100 years? — but I think these are all items which are unavoidably in our future path.

Vat-Grown Produce

For the most part, all that food is, is biological cells. The ostrich egg is, for example, simply the most massive single cell on the earth, containing on the outside a protein-filled liquid called cytoplasm (egg white), and on the inside a denser nucleus (yolk). A bay leaf, a steak, or anything else is no different except that the minerals floating about in the cells are somewhat different, and of course the cells are much smaller and packed together to be so small that you can’t very well tell unless you use a microscope.

True, not all foods are cells. Fat, for example, is simply a molecule which tends to get shoved off to the side so that it forms stores of material for cells to grab from a centralized location.

But, for example, if we take an ostrich egg, keep it warm, it produces an ostrich. All of the cells that make up that ostrich are grown by other cells, which then split off and join up in a bird-like shape.

But whereas an egg cell tries to create all of the cells that go into making a full animal, other types of cells simply create others of their own kind. A meat cell might only create other meat cells, for example. If you can get it to do this, then you don’t need to raise an animal with a full brain and nervous system. You don’t need to grow all the bits that no one really wants. Or better yet, we can grow each part according to true demand.

If I am a cattle farmer, for example, I know that I can make X amount of money per cow for its meat, Y amount for its hide, and Z for the hooves and horns. But say that there’s a great demand for leather. If we could double the amount of leather, there would be buyers for it at the same price. If I doubled the amount of cows on my farm, however, there wouldn’t be double the number of meat eaters in the country; there wouldn’t be double the number of gelatin eaters. To support raising double the number of cows, just to sell them for leather, I would have to raise the price. But at that price, there wouldn’t be the demand. Ultimately, I am raising the number of cows that I am because it’s the optimum number for me to produce based on three unrelated markets. The leather market is held back by two other markets.

With the ability to grow the parts of the cow separately, we grow exactly as much as there is demand.

At the same time, this frees up the land for other purposes. Since we can grow corn, strawberries, or other plants in a factory just as well as meat, it won’t be for other types of farms. The market will shrink as most demand goes to factory produced foods, and the farmers will have to sell all of their land at low prices. So far as the market is concerned, these are both good things.

But of course, cells don’t simply “grow” on their own. They need food to grow just as much as we do.

For a basic cell, the big demands are going to be light and minerals, so far as I understand it. Light can, obviously, be artificially produced. Minerals, on the other hand, would have to be mined.

A farm is, essentially, just a great big mine for minerals that only searches the top few inches of the soil. Given that land is quite valuable, this is really rather wasteful. The better answer is to pick a spot and simply dig straight down. Quite likely, much of the waste dirt already being produced by mines would provide the material needed to feed our factories. Nuclear or coal or whatever other energy source would power the light sources which also fed our vat-grown produce.

An interesting side benefit of this whole process is that besides freeing up land and shifting the market, factory grown produce would be every survivalist’s dream. Regardless of whether you’re living under the surface of the Earth or trying to populate outer space, the ability to grow food from little more than a light bulb offers a significant advantage versus pre-packaged goods. Underground, you can still continue to mine for minerals; in space, you can collect bits of rock to process for them. There is no particular limit to how long you can survive, so long as you have all the equipment to enable this technology with you.

In the shorter term, though, the big changes would of course mostly be financial. So far as the end consumer is concerned, beyond a possibly cuboid shape to his food, nothing much will have changed. It will just be when he finds himself paying less, making a fortune investing in fertilizer companies, or getting interested in high quality, “traditionally” grown produce that anything will have seemed to have changed. Still, when you consider that the greatest necessity for human life is food and our method of producing it has been fairly consistent since agrarian civilizations first began several tens of thousands of years ago, this will be a significant departure; hunter gatherer became farmer, now becomes wholly manufactured.

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One Response to “Technologies that are Going to Change the World – Vat-Grown Produce”

  1. Roberta said

    Probably having ‘factory produced’ foods will be the future, at least in the long run. However, for right now, there are a lot of people who are fighting against the concept. Look at vicious articles and websites against ‘genetically-modified’ foods — Monsanto’s GMO corn, for instance. Probably, in reality, there’s nothing wrong with the corn, but people get totally freaked out by the concept of a plant food being messed around with in a laboratory. What most people don’t realize is that all of the various plants we eat, especially corn, has been genetically modified for thousands of years, albeit much more slowly than what can be done in a laboratory. It’s all the same, though.

    Now, when you talk about ‘growing meat,’ I, like many others, have a first-reaction, a visceral reaction, to this idea. It sounds weird, I must admit. However, in concept, I guess it’s not really any different than growing any other kind of ‘cell,’ because, you’re right — a cell is a cell — plant or animal. If we have problems relating to genetically-modified corn, how do you think people will react to ‘genetically-modifed’ meat!

    I think, though, that at some time in the future — maybe no in our lifetime — but sometime in the future, people will eat genetically-modified, laboratory-grown meat…and not think a thing about it!

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