Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Making a Steak

The drive for artificial habitats will be largely academic until someone answers the question, "How do you make a steak (without a cow)?" I am of course not talking about those veggy steaks or about how to actually prepare a steak when meat has been provided. I am talking about how to make synthetic muscle fiber that looks and tastes like the real McCoy and contains enough saturated fat to clog your arteries.

This problem is basically one of reverse engineering. So let's reverse engineer last Saturday's dinner, shall we? The steak I ate was a Porterhouse, the ultimate steak. It contained four basic elements. Hard bone, connective tissue, muscle fiber and saturated fat. The challenge is making each of these. The bone is mainly calcium. Because we do not eat it, the details are not that important. The connective tissue, although inedible, is essential to hold the meat, fat and bone together. Fat we know how to create. The essential problem is how to synthesize artificial muscle fiber.

We can also treat this problem as one of cybernetics. We know what the put of our system is - we just stated it in our reverse engineering description. The inputs are known by any animal husbandry major, they are what a steer eats. All of these can be grown with little effort.

The challenge is to duplicate the process by which these inputs become a steer. Also, synthesizing milk would be nice, although from what I hear soy milk can come pretty close.

The biochemistry of muscle fiber is pretty well known. Cell biologists know what proteins are contained within it. The also know how the composition of the cell membrane. The key is to take this knowledge and turn it into a process which takes what amounts to home grown animal feed and turn it into a synthetic steak. This process can then be turned into a household appliance, which will also add strategically placed fat for our synthetic steak.

I am speculating here, but I think the process may be as easy as spinning the correct mix of proteins and encasing the thread in synthetic cell membrane. On the show 2057, a dot matrix printer was thought to be the instrument to regrow an artificial heart. Could it be that easy to grow a steak? I would think so.

Currently, the demand is not there for such artificial beef. However, for space travel and in reaction to the end of cheap fossil fuels, the day when this is cost effective is sure to come.

Egg yoke should be much easier to synthesize, which is good because nothing goes with a good steak then Sauce Bernaise.