Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Possibilities of Porken

After a long of dithering and worry and vague panic and nail biting and procrastination, I'm starting this blog. (If there's anyone out there who's been bating their breath for me to say those words, I apologize. I hope this blog is all you're expecting.)

Part of the delay in starting was not knowing how to start. There's so much technology already out there, so much being invented and improved upon, and so much fodder in sci-fi, fantasy (and horror, never forget horror), that it's really hard to pick any one thing that'll give readers a taste of what's to come. See, I want this blog to be a semi-news source for What's New and Exciting, a place to be just generally geeky about sci-fi, fantasy, and science, and a place to discuss and generate ideas for speculative fiction.

This is a tall order. I know this. It seems to have gotten taller since I hit on the idea. Possibly it's the size of Godzilla at the moment.

To get over the blogger's block, I've pulled out the tried and true method of Close My Eyes and Pick Something At Random.

And so, our topic for today is … vat-grown meat*. You know, like what we're all going to be eating when a) we run out of animals, b) we run out of enough animals to feed everyone, or c) we all move to spaceships and space stations? Well, when our great-great-grandchildren are munching on fried vat-chicken in orbit around Alpha Centauri, they'll be able to thank a team of scientists at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands.

Here's how they did it:

1. Remove special cells from the muscles of a live pig.
2. Stick the cells in a nutrient solution to encourage them to multiply.
3. Wait.
4. Wait some more.
5. Get a hunk of naturally boneless pork.

There're a few problems that need to be solved still. The pork is soft and sticky, because it hasn't had the exercise a live, active, whole pig would have, so we'll have to invent a way to toughen it up. The solution the pork is grown in is currently made from animal fetuses (ew), so we'll need to invent a synthetic broth. And the scientists aren't allowed to eat the pork due to lab rules, health concerns, etc., so we have no idea how the stuff tastes.

The good news? The scientists are predicting five years until the product is marketable. Pigs everywhere will rejoice.

All righty, folks, time for that "generate sci-fi ideas" segment of today's program. I'll start. Pitch in if you feel like it.

To solve the exercise problem, clamp the pork onto a machine that will pull on it at varying speeds, mimicking walking, running, and so on. Start this when you have a small hunk and keep it up as the hunk gets larger and attains the desired consistency. I'm no scientist, but I'm betting you'd get better results if you kept the pork in solution while you did that. Alternatively, you could make the pork grow onto artificial bones attached to a robot, and then make the robot move. (This would be easy if you grew the pork onto a robotic fish.** More on those later.)

If we go with the robot idea, we'd essentially be creating cyborg pigs, or be a step or two away from doing so. And I doubt it would be that much harder to create a cyborg human by this method, so long as we got rid of those pesky anti-cloning laws first.

What a world with cyborg clones would be like? Who'd make these cyborgs? What would they be used for? Would the same kind of people who stuff their dead pets create cyborg pets from Rover's body? Would everything be robotic and artificial except for the flesh, or would we have progressed to bioware by then?

Going back to the concept of fried vat-chicken over Alpha Centauri, would there be one single machine or bank of machines to grow the stuff? Would there be an official Meat Exercise Machine Attendant? Would cafeteria workers need advanced biology degrees? What happens if there's contamination or cross-contamination? Would our descendants think it was normal to be eating giraffe or alligator, or hybrids like bork or fishken or, heck, giraffigator?

I'm sure I've only touched the surface here. Anyone?

London Times via io9
** MIT News via BoingBoing

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