Friday, April 27, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: the Yeast-Beast Machine

First of all, yes, that just sounds gross. It does. Sorry for that. And, I would bet, you are all wondering what that is (well, maybe not Rusty, since he seems to have read all the sci-fi authors whose names start with the letter "B"). But before I get to that, I'm going to jump back to a very famous guy in this series, Isaac Asimov.

In Asimov's book, The Caves of Steel (1953 (as a serial)), as I've said before, the whole planet is just one big city. Being one big city, there's not a lot of land left outside the city and certainly not enough to grow enough food to feed the entire world. Instead of growing crops and raising livestock, the food is grown hydroponically. I'm wishing I had a better memory of what it was exactly (or had the book where I could get to it (but it's in a box somewhere in the garage)), but it was some kind of protein that could be flavored in a variety of ways and formed the basis for the standard diet of the people of Earth. It was food grown in a vat.

I don't really know if this idea precedes Asimov or not, but it was certainly picked up by other sci-fi authors.

In 1963, H. Beam Piper used the idea in his novel Space Viking. The space ships contain hydroponic carniculture vats in which they grow some sort of meat or meat substitute. Protein nonetheless.

In 1970, Frank Herbert's novel Whipping Star introduced us to pseudoflesh.

Even Neuromancer (William Gibson) mentions some sort of meat vats (although, I'm not remembering the details).

The term Yeast-Beast was introduced in David Brin's 1994 short story, "NatuLife." The Yeast-Beast is the device that produces the vat grown meat.

And, yes, I know all of this sounds really gross. Growing meat in a bathtub. Blech.


In vitro meat has been being developed for a couple of decades now. And it was NASA that began the research as a possibility as a source of protein for long-term space voyages. It's also called hydroponic (there's that word again) meat, vat-grown meat, and victimless meat.

The first edible meat was actually produced over a decade ago, and, as of 2008, scientists claim the technology has developed to the point that it's ready to be made available commercially. The only real issue? People are turned off by the idea of eating meat grown in a vat. Well, that, and it's still expensive. Right now, bathtub meat would cost you more than animal meat, but, with the right backing, that might not stay true for very long. And being able to grow meat for consumption in developing nations could save a lot of lives. Currently, there are more than 30 laboratories around the world working on the development of in vitro meat.

As of February of this year, the first hamburger was made from vat grown meat. One of the biggest differences that vat grown meat could have for us is in time: It takes about two years to grow a cow big enough to slaughter to make that hamburger; you can make that same meat in just six weeks in a vat.

They do, however, say there's a slight issue with texture, but they're working on it.

Bonus "Y": Youth Eternal

Yeah, yeah, I know, we've been looking and looking for this for centuries. More than centuries. It's another of those staples of fiction and science fiction, and I'm not even going to go into all of that. I just want to say one thing about it, really:

Many scientists (geneticists) believe that this generation (my generation) will be the last generation on Earth that has to die. They're fairly certain they've identified the gene that causes aging, and they think they can figure out how to turn it off. If they can do that, no one would ever need to die of old age or old age related issues ever again. It's kind of a scary concept. With as many people as we already have on the planet, can you imagine what it would be like if no one ever died?


  1. The concept of vat-grown meat is amazing. But it seems to me it would be easier for people to change their habits and eat protien in a different form. Good, informative blog.

  2. Could reduce the pollution caused by raising that cow as well. Still think I'd take a tofu burger over a vat-meat though.

  3. Given the flap over "pink slime" recently I'm thinking people won't take to vat-grown meat right away.

    I looked up a Kurt Vonnegut book last night called "2BR2B" (or something like that) where science has "cured" aging so the only way to have a baby is for someone else to die. Eventually it seems that is what you would have to do because otherwise the Earth would get too crowded. Though if it were so overcrowded then I guess we might need vat-grown meat.

  4. Really, we should just turn to soy. Much less disgusting to see it shaped into a meat patty than vat grown meat. Blech.

    And I'll take one of those anti-aging gene makeovers please!

  5. Dammit. So many things are in my head right now. My phone is the bottleneck that keeps it all from coming out.

    Yea, I've read a ton of Brin, but only novels I think - Startide Rising being the foremost among them - I don't recall knowing about the Yeast Beast Machine. I might go all Socrates though, and say I know everything, I just forgot I knew most things and I have to reminded.

    Crap. All that was a prelude to my point - which I've forgotten. I need faster thumbs.

  6. I knew there was a reason I'm a vegetarian...

  7. Vat grown meat....eeesh, even the name stinks!

  8. I don't think death is a bad thing. I know that I'm saying that now, but it is part of the natural order. If no death becomes available, it will only be so for the super-rich. You can guarantee that.

  9. Hello Andrew beautiful space, a pleasure to read your letters,
    if you like the poetry I invite you to my spaces,
    Happy Sunday.
    a greeting.

  10. I doubt you can actually call that stuff "meat" since it's not an animal product. Sounds a lot like TVP, which is pretty disgusting too.

  11. Okay, I admit that the idea of vat meat grosses me out, but if it were proven safe, were readily available, and was inexpensive, I'd eat it. I'd just make a point not to watch documentaries on how it's done. I've got my limits.

    Knowing that there is probably a good chance my mind will be changed when I get older, I have to say now that I don't really want our life spans to get longer. The planet is already over crowded. If we don't have to die, how will we possibly have the resources to support the people? We won't. I would hope true space exploration and colonization would occur first. Personally (and this is the part I realize I may change my mind on when I face my own mortality), I don't WANT to live hundreds of years.

  12. "Meat Vat" is pretty gross sounding, but could also make for a great metal band name.

    Thanks for commenting on my Young Indiana Jones Chronicles post. I tried to connect the dots of my fuzzy memories with info found online, and not all was accurate. I'm going to revisit a few episodes on Netflix.

  13. Francene: Although there are other forms of protein, none of them are actually as good as meat at providing it.
    Thanks for coming by!

    Alex: I can't do tofu. It doesn't really taste like anything, but the real reason is the texture. blech

    Grumpy: The difference in pink slime and vat grown meat is that pink slime is made out of all the parts of an animal that we can't actually digest, so it's worthless for our bodies. But, yeah, I'm not thinking that people are gonna take to the idea very well.

    L.G.: For efficiency, the vat grown meat still wins.

    Rusty: There's a line from Doctor Who that I've always loved (and remembered for, like, 25 years): I've forgotten more than you'll ever know.

    M.J.: Oh, come on... just a bite?

    Donna: Now, I wonder what it smells like.

    Michael: I certainly agree that that is how it will be at first.

    Ricardo: Thanks for coming by!

    Elizabeth: It is, actually, an animal product. It's grown from actual muscle tissue; it's just grown in a vat instead of on the animal.

    Shannon: I think vat meat will get introduced in areas of the world where hunger is an issue. When it is seen to work and it becomes less expensive to make a vat of meat than to grow a cow, we'll start having vat grown meat everywhere, and the price of real meat will make it a status thing. Like what's happening with books.

    Stephsco: LOL I can see that as a band name.