2011-07-18

Co.Exist

The Jell-O Is Made From People! Human-Derived Gelatin Coming Soon

We may not have to rely on boiled pig bones for our gelatin forever. The solution may not be any more appetizing, but it is safer and easier.

Gelatin is found in everything from Jell-O and marshmallows to cosmetics and candles. But the current method of taking gelatin from the skin and bones of cows and pigs has a number of drawbacks, including variation in quality from batch to batch, the potential for transmitting infectious diseases like Mad Cow and the possibility of triggering immune system responses in humans. We may not have to rely on pig bones for  gelatin forever, though the newest option—human derived gelatin—isn't too appetizing.

Beijing University of Chemical Technology researchers created the slightly creepy product by sticking human gelatin genes into a strain of yeast that can produce gelatin with reliable features—and a virtual guarantee that it won't be contaminated with pathogens or cause immune responses (because the gelatin molecules are based on human DNA sequences). No word on when the gelatin will be available for commercial use, but there are other companies working on similar products.

A San Francisco-based company called FibroGen is also developing "recombinant human gelatin" that has already been safely tested on humans as a stabilizer for vaccines. FibroGen is also talking with capsule manufacturers (think: capsules for medication) to study the feasibility of using recombinant gelatin in their products.

So here's the question: cow and pig-based gelatin is definitely not vegetarian, but what about human-derived gelatin?  It doesn't come from actual people, but it is derived from human genes. At what point do genes represent a person that you don't want to eat? On the plus side, it's undoubtedly safer than today's gelatin, so perhaps we should consider it a stepping stone on the way to a less stomach-curdling gelatin source.

[Image: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

Add New Comment

1 Comments

  • Tom

    Well I don't think that such a product would be non-vegetarian, just as cultured "muscle tissue" wouldn't actually be an animal, and I reckon it would be vegan friendly!
    A much more desirable food would be fake meat made from "myco-protein", that is  food made of fungus grown in human er... waste. That way we recyle some of that valuable nitrogen...