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There’s always room for Soylent Green

July 20, 2011

Photo by fras1977

If you didn’t know, the delicious jiggly gelatin treat known as Jell-O is made from animals. Once known as “calf’s foot jelly,” Jell-O is comprised of collagen pulled from inside animal skins, bones, and connective tissue (usually cattle or pig if non-kosher), purified, mixed with sugar and fruit flavors, and then eaten. Gelatin is also found in gummy candy, marshmallows, and some low-fat yogurts, as well as pharmaceuticals, photography, and cosmetics, which means I will never be able to be a vegetarian. Well, these and bacon.

Anyhow, this is the way gelatin has been produced for years and years. Naturally, the next step is to make gelatin out of a more readily available product: people.

I know, you’re recoiling in horror at the idea of noshing down on someone old lady’s ligaments in your Sour Patch Kids, but that’s not the purpose of this form of gelatin.

The focus of this study into human gelatin is medical use, like pill capsules and vaccines. When collagen is pulled out of animals it’s not very uniform due to varying lengths, and it’s ability to gel isn’t always stable. Additionally, some people have adverse reactions to animal protein, not to mention the very small possibility of transmitting diseases like mad cow. We do not want these adverse reactions to happen to someone who is already immunocompromised. Human based gelatin would be able to work around these problems:

On the contrary, production of human gelatin in a microbial expression system may eliminate the aforementioned problems because the size and charge of human gelatin can be easily controlled. Moreover, scaling up production of the desired product by DNA manipulation and bioengineering-related techniques in microbial expression system is feasible. These advantages of recombinant gelatin have attracted increasing interest from research and industrial circles.

Okay, so there’s benefits. But how are they going to get the human collagen? Banish Dr. Frankenstein morgue raids from your mind. Scientists plan to use genes. The human collagen gene is to be inserted into a yeast. The yeast is less likely to pass on disease than animal products, and the gelatin is grown from scratch in the lab.

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