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Hank brings us the strange story of in vitro meat - muscle tissue grown in laboratories with the hope that someday we will eat it.

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Hank Green: I love a good veggie corn dog or a garden burger, it's nice to eat something tasty that didn't have a mom, but I also like meat.  'Cause of how delicious it is.  So, how do I live with myself?  Well, for now, I don't, but we're getting closer than ever to having a fascinating alternative for those of us who don't want to eat the flesh of a once-living animal, but do want to eat the flesh of a once-living animal.  Can I interest you in some real meat that was created in a laboratory?

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In-vitro meat is what I hear it called most often, but that is a horrible name, no one is ever going to buy that.  Some alternatives include 'cultured meat', 'test-tube meat', 'hydroponic meat', and my personal least favorite, 'schmeat'.   And it's for real!  In-vitro meat has already been produced in various small quantities in several labs, including one in the Netherlands that's grown a piece of cow in pig muscle about three centimeters long and one centimeter wide.  As to the science of this, which is why we're here in the first place, how do you grow meat?

Basically, you do it the same way animals do it, you start with stem cells and then you feed them.  Some labs are starting out with embryonic stem cells, others extract specialized stem cells found in animals' muscle tissue called satellite cells', either way, those cells are then cultured in a petri dish full of amino acids and lipids and other nutrients to start the growth process.  The cells are then attached to a scaffold of collagen gel that allows them to organize themselves into muscle fibers and then eventually into muscle tissue.  Mhmm.  But like any muscle, this one needs to be exercised or else it will atrophy and be not tasty at all, so scientists apply electrical impulses to the tissue to stimulate it, giving it the workout it needs.  Do this enough times and in theory, you'll eventually get a ham or something.  

And there are lots of ethical and environmental arguments for making meat in a lab, often I'll hear people say that in vitro meat sounds gross and unnatural, but there really isn't much that's more gross and unnatural than the way that we currently produce meat.  And that's not even to mention the amount of land and energy and water that's needed to raise food animals is astronomical and growing every year.  Oxford University researchers have predicted that cultured meat can be produced with 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, 99% less land use, and 96% less water than conventional meat.  

But still, yes, there are many hurdles keeping in vitro meat from the mainstream, most importantly, the cost.  That little morsel of cow meat grown in the Netherlands?  Making a complete hamburger would require 30,000 more strips of that tissue, each of which takes six weeks to produce, by the time you're ready to fire up the grill, scientists estimate you're looking at a $250,000 burger.  As an incentive to make lab meat more cost-effective, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has offered a $1 million dollar reward to the first scientist to create in vitro chicken that's cheap enough to bring to market.  

So even though in vitro meat probably won't be part of our daily diets anytime soon, it's still an idea whose time has come.  In fact, eighty years ago, Winston Churchill actually predicted that we'd all be eating Kentucky Fried Lab Chicken someday.  "Within 50 years, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."  Well said, Winston, you may have been quite a few decades off, but still, a pretty good prediction.  So, when lab meat does show up in the grocery stores, what do you think we're gonna call it, 'cause somehow I don't think 'schmeat' is gonna fly off the shelves.  If you have a better name, let us know below in the comments.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, I hope that it doesn't totally gross you out, the idea of eating meat that's made in a lab, 'cause kinda eating meat that's made on an animal is kinda gross, so remember that.  Please join the intelligent and nuanced debate going on in the comments--no flame wars!  And if you want to keep getting smarter with us, go to and subscribe.

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