I was catching up on chemistry news over the lunch hour and discovered this little gelatinous gem:
New Strategy for Expression of Recombinant Hydroxylated Human-Derived Gelatin in Pichia pastoris KM71
You're wiggling and jiggling with excitement, right?
For those staring blankly at the title, wondering what caught my eye, it's the "human-derived gelatin" part. A quick search turned up a blogosphere all aflutter at the news of a human-based bowl of Jello in our snack-pack future.
Mmm, ground-up animal-derived collagen for my afternoon snack
Gelatin is denatured collagen (mainly derived from grinding up collagen from cow and pig tissue) used in food, makeup, pharmaceuticals, even photography. However, there is significant variation from batch to batch when using animal-derived collagen, meaning unpredictable outcomes for quality control folks. In addition, animal-based gelatin carries the risk of infectious diseases (I can see "I ate this Jello and all I got was Mad Cow disease" t-shirts on the market), and could provoke immune responses in some people.
In the interest of a more controlled, stable product that doesn't spark immune reactions, scientists inserted human gelatin genes into a strain of yeast, which allows for scalability and gelatin with 'controllable features.' Science Daily says the researchers are still testing the human-yeast gelatin to see how well it compares to other gelatins in terms of its viscosity and other attributes. My big takeaway - humans make way better Jello than animals. Take that, you sub-par porcine and bovine bastards! Hu-mans! Hu-mans!
Bartender, there's human DNA in my Jello shot
Fear not, squeamish readers - it's unlikely you'll see Bill Cosby-flavored Jello hitting the grocery store anytime soon (what would that taste like, I wonder?). The researchers had other pursuits in mind for the immediate future, namely medical and industrial products like vaccines and drug capsules. No need to avoid Grandma's Jello salad at the next family picnic.
I'm curious how the humans who aren't made into Jello will respond if this does make its way into food products. Is it vegetarian? Vegan? Cannibalism? And is this a new solution to address overpopulation? One Slashdot reader suggested a groan-inducing potential slogan for a human-based Jello: "Feed the homeless to the hungry."1 If we bite our fingernails, besides not being hungry for lunch2, aren't we already nibbling on human-derived tissue?
One benefit I think the researchers should explore, beyond medical and commercial use - in the event of an apocalyptic event that unleashes zombies into the human population, could we satisfy their cravings with a lovely plate of human-derived Jello?
1 I would never advocate grinding up actual humans to make Jello. Not even Justin Bieber.
2 Technically, Judd Nelson tells Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club that if she keeps eating her hand she won't be hungry for lunch. But he was referring to her biting her nails, so I took artistic license here.
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