Food grown in vats

Nicholas Landau nlandau at eden.rutgers.edu
Thu Jul 25 19:07:01 EST 1996

erskine at griffith.dwr.csiro.au (David Erskine) writes:

>Food grown in vats

>Is it possible to grow fruit and vegetables in vats? A vat
>of apple cells, fed with sugar, air and small amounts of
>other nutrients, should becomes full of apple goo. If the
>cells have some inert substrate to cling to, they will form
>a large slab of apple.

Eukaryotic cell cultures like this are very tricky to grow.  They are
quite susceptible to contamination by fungi and bacteria.  Of course,
this is possible.  The question is will it ever be more practical than
growing the whole organism.

You mentioned that eating cell culture would be practical in places like
Antarctica, which are remote from arable land.  I am not sure that I
agree.  All of the substrates and nutrients required by the cell
culture would need to be imported, anyway.  In fact, the mass of
substrate and nutrients used to maintain a cell culture would well
exceed your yield of tissue, and so it would be easier just to
ship the produce.

So distance from civilization works against you with this method.  It
is possible that some day, advances in tissue culture technique will
make it economically competitive with agriculture.  Right now, however,
this is anything but the case.  An apple tree is an organism which is
well adapted to grow well, with relatively little assistance, in
the field.  Apple cells would need meticulous care and a highly
controlled environment if grown in culture.

Please note that the "vat grown" food mentioned in your post (which I
now regret cutting) are all influenced by the growth of unicellular
organisms which are well adapted to living in an environment like a
culture.  They are usually able to out-compete other organisms in these
kinds of environments (although not always.)  One last thing to note
is that cultured foods like wine, mushrooms, cheese, and sourkraut are
not grown to increase the nutritional value of food.  They are grown
because they taste good.

Tissue culture will not really produce food the way a farm does.  The
culture will need to be fed itself, and the stuff you feed it will
need to be grown on a farm, anyway.  There are a few exceptions; many
mushrooms grow on stuff people cannot eat, for example.  The stuff (cow
dung and wood, for example) still needs to be harvested and prepared,
and this requires plenty of effort.  One reason why mushrooms cost
so much.

Anyway, give it some thought.

Nick Landau
Dept. Biochemistry and Microbiology
Rutgers University
nlandau at eden.rutgers.edu

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