Sergey Brin, the billionaire Google co-founder, has invested €250,000 ($330,000) to develop synthetic beef, and it won’t be long before it’s ready for its very first taste test, reports the Guardian’s Charles Arthur.
Brin, who turns 40 later this month, has a long track record of supporting projects that strike most people as fringe science if not actual science fiction, but he’s also had plenty of success. Aside from the Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s impressive and hugely popular ability to organize human knowledge, Brin has been involved in everything from electric cars (now a reality as Tesla shareholders can attest) to asteroid mining, which still seems like a long bet.
Brin looks for technology “on the cusp of viability”
“I like to look for technology opportunities where it seems like the technology is on the cusp of viability,” said Brin in a video announcing the new product.
The idea is to take muscle-specific stem cells from a cow and then put them in the right conditions to grow. Without any stimulus to quit growing, there is practically no limit to how much beef could be grown from a single sample of stem cells once the technical details are worked out. This process is similar to medical advances in producing artificial tissue for high-tech surgery, techniques that are also in the early stages but appear to be very promising.
Brin’s alternative meat born of concern for animal rights
In the video, Brin says that his investment came partly out of concern for animal rights, because he considers modern industrial farming to be cruel, but there are plenty of other reasons to want an alternative to livestock. Meat production takes up about 70 percent of the Earth’s arable land, which is a terribly inefficient way to feed the planet’s rapidly growing population. Livestock also produce 18 percent of all greenhouse gases, and trading them in for vat-grown meat would be a huge stride towards reducing human emissions.
Ironically, while livestock are one of the causes of climate change, access to meat is one of the future struggles that researchers and investors are worried about. The threat of climate change intensifies these concerns in the coming decades.
According to Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, “Climate change is going to change resource distribution, and in a modern world where we have Paleolithic minds and contemporary weapons, that’s really dangerous.”