Artificial meat was in the news this week as the results of one of Sergey Brin's alternative investments was unveiled. The Economist has a look at the environmental benefits of artificial meat (quoting a 45% energy saving for meat produced in this way) as well as an interesting quote from long ago - Appetising prospects.
“THE war is won,” declared Winston Churchill in 1931. The victory in question was not military, but technological. Developments in tissue engineering prompted the future British prime minister to enthuse that soon “we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing”. The optimism proved premature. But now, eight decades later, scientists have finally come close to realising his dream. On August 5th they cooked the world’s first hamburger made of meat grown from scratch in a laboratory.
The historic patty was not exactly a Porterhouse steak—and a bit bland, according to two volunteer tasters. At the same time it cost a juicy €250,000 ($330,000), so India and Brazil, the world’s biggest exporters of beef, need not tremble in their cowboy boots anytime soon. But it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the world’s menu.
People have, pace vegetarians, evolved to love meat, which contains many necessary nutrients, and especially protein, in higher concentrations than plants do. The rub is that livestock, the main purpose of which is to pack goodies found in flora into a more condensed form, does not do the job very efficiently. Only about 15% of plant nutrients find their way into muscle. That makes animal husbandry extremely resource-intensive. It already takes up 30% of the world’s ice-free land—and a whopping 70% of its arable land. It also produces 18% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, more than transport (cattle are notorious sources of methane, a greenhouse-gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide).
Meanwhile, as poor countries grow richer, so does their appetite for flesh. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation forecasts global demand for meat to increase by three-quarters over the next 40 years. This is unsustainable. In contrast, growing meat in factories—or, one day, in your home—is estimated to use up to 45% less energy, 99% less land and 96% less water than farming, as well as to spew out 78-96% fewer greenhouse gases.
The NYT's Dot Earth blog has a post on the "Frankenburger" which included an interesting graph of the benefits that may await.
TED has a talk by the creator of the meat, Mark Post - Meet the new meat: Mark Post at TEDxHaarlem.
The Independent's article on the topic had a look at some of Brin's other investments - 'Close to meat': Foodies underwhelmed by first synthetic beef burger to be eaten in public.
With a personal wealth of $20bn, Sergey Brin isn’t afraid to take a punt on outlandish business ventures. As well as the first lab-grown burger, the Google co-founder has backed asteroid mining and driverless cars.
In 2008, Brin invested $4.5m in Space Adventures, a Virginia-based space tourism company, which is selling trips to the Moon for $100m (£65m). Last year, Brin joined the film director James Cameron by investing in Planetary Resources, a new company set up to exploit the precious metals contained in asteroids, seen as a potential alternative to the Earth’s depleted supply of natural resources.
Brin is an evangelist for driverless “robot cars”. He invested in Tesla Motors, developer of the Roadster, an electric vehicle with a range of 244 miles. Google has put its prototype self-driving cars through 300,000 miles of testing. Brin believes robot cars will be available to the public by 2017.
Philanthropic ventures play an important role in the Brin portfolio. He created Passerelle Investment Company, which buys property in Los Altos, a Silicon Valley town, and rents them at below-market rates. Brin also has an interest in a genetic testing start-up 23andMe, co-founded by his wife, Anne Wojcicki, which gives people data about their ancestry.
Another billionaire who is making some interesting investments (albeit not in the same league as Sergey or Elon Musk) is Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who was in the press this week for his purchase of The Washington Post - Crikey has a look at some of his other investments in the future - What’s a dot-com genius going to do with The Washington Post?.
This isn’t as much of an investment as it is a pet project, but a couple of years ago Bezos spent $US42 million of his own cash on a 10,000-year clock in the middle of the Texas desert.
This new craze has taken tech-heads by storm, and Bezos is right at the forefront of the revolution — he has a modest investment in Makerbot, a manufacturer of 3D printing machines.
This is a strange one. Bezos founded a wreckage recovery business, which is all about finding discarded parts of rockets and spaceships that have fallen into the ocean as part of the Apollo program, way back in the 1970s. Last month he even wrote a blog post from a ship on a mission to find lost parts.
At least this is related to technology. Last year, Bezos joined the CIA in pumping cash into quantum computing firm In-Q-Tel.