Allison Xia • TEDxDeerfield
The Future of Meat
As advancements are being made in modern technology and our society is becoming increasingly mechanized, the impacts of climate change are growing evermore detrimental. Between 1990 and 2010, carbon dioxide emissions rose 42%. This statistic is just one of many that points to the effects of industrialization. Within this realm of industry, the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the agricultural industry. Agriculture requires immense deforestation in order to provide the necessary land for livestock and crops, and the act of clearing land for agricultural purposes releases stored carbon dioxide, accounting for approximately 35% of the total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are humans contributing to the release of GHGE, but animals themselves contribute to more than 50% of these emissions as both indirect and direct byproducts of manure and enteric fermentation. In an effort to combat these rising emission levels, many have turned to specifically reducing their carbon footprints in the meat sector of the agriculture industry. Companies like Beyond Meat market their plant-based meat products as ‚Äö√Ñ√∫The Future of Protein‚Äö√Ñ√π, requiring 90% less water, 93% less land, and 46% less energy to produce, ultimately releasing 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is only so much land to be cultivated if and when a shift occurs from animal-based meat to plant-based meat. The advancement of another scientific area of study is that of animal cell-based meat. The research currently being conducted on self-renewal and differential stem cells in culture has opened up new opportunities for the meat industry in the past few years. The process of cellular differentiation begins with pluripotent stem cells that can then be differentiated to become various types of cells that we can clearly identify as muscle cells, immune cells, sex cells, and more. This process continues even as cells enter into adulthood and daughter cells are formed, however, as a cell becomes more mature, the potential for cell determination decreases. Thus, in working with stem cells as opposed to mature cells, researchers have the power to shape the path of cellular development depending on the culture that the cell is grown in, proliferating various types of cells for various needs. While available land for agricultural use is finite, the number of cells in this world is seemingly infinite, and along with this, comes infinite possibilities. As stem cell technology becomes more efficient and more accessible, it is possible that both plant and animal stem cells could be used in the production of cell-based meat. Animal stem cells can be grown in a medium that promotes the specialization to muscle cells, fat cells, and the necessary cells to develop meat in the lab. Future advancements could also lead to the development of plant stem cells used to manufacture ‚Äö√Ñ√∫plant cell-based meat‚Äö√Ñ√π. Additionally, using bioengineering, the culture that stem cells are grown in can be modified to include specific genomes and nutrients designed to make the meat richer in vitamins that we may be otherwise lacking. This technology will have the power to revolutionize not only the meat industry, but also studies pertaining to environmental sustainability.