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Living in the Future: May 27, 2013

This week on We are Living in the Future: Lab-grown burgers, debris from asteroids, and mice don’t like space…

One of the problems with the consumption of beef in the world is that cattle are very expensive to raise. If researchers at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands have their way, beef will be grown in a lab much more efficiently, though without some of the distinct characteristics of cattle. To make a lab-grown burger, the scientists used stem cells from the neck of cows to produce 20,000 strips of muscle tissue, which are then assembled into a burger. Of course, that one burger, as a prototype, costs around $325,000 – but that price will fall now that the techniques have been developed.

When asteroids crash into anything, the predominant theory has been that they throw up lots of material from the object they hit, though the rock itself vaporizes. Now, recent simulations have shown that at many angles and “slow” speeds, the crashing object may shatter and become part of the crater. This means that accessing rare minerals, found in asteroids  but not on earth or the moon, may be much easier. As well, it suggests that many of the rare elements observed on the moon may be imports, not native to it – and explains some of the difference of lunar and earthly minerals.

A Russian spacecraft containing mice, gerbils, and newts has returned to earth after a month in space. It suffered an equipment failure, but revealed that newts are particularly well suited to space environments, as most of the mice and gerbils perished during the experiment. It does mark the longest animals have been left in space on their own – an important first step towards understanding the effects of microgravity, as it is not ethical to experiment on humans in space. The mice, however, are classic test subjects – and despite the failure, half of the mice survived the experiment. The animals were observed with remote cameras as they took a higher orbit than the International Space Station – where they weren’t allowed to dock because of the possibility of contamination.