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Test-tube burger is in the works

Would you eat mystery meat grown in a lab if doing so was better for the environment? The debate may seem abstract, but scientists could turn a test-tube burger into reality.

The $330,000 project being conducted by Mark Post, chairman of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, involves a cow's stem cells and funds from an anonymous private investor. Post has already created several small strips of muscle tissue that, once he makes thousands more, will be mashed together to create a burger patty. The first sandwich could be ready this fall, he said during a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada.

Coming up with alternatives is a pressing concern, according to researchers who claim that conventional livestock production is devastating to the environment and dangerous for human health. "Animal farming is by far the biggest ongoing environmental catastrophe," said Patrick Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Supermarket shelves have seen a growing number of mock meats -- known as meat analogues -- as the ranks of vegetarians and vegans grow. Manufacturers often use tofu, tempeh and other soy products as a base.

Factory farms take up massive swaths of land and suck up enormous energy reserves while crowding together animals who, in those closely confined quarters, could spawn outbreaks of E.coli and other food-borne illnesses, he said.

-- Los Angeles Times


Secret drone still circling earth

One year after the Air Force blasted it into orbit, an experimental robotic space drone continues to circle the earth. Its mission and payload, however, remain a mystery.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, which looks like a miniature unmanned version of the space shuttle, was launched last March from Cape Canaveral, Fla. At the time, Air Force officials offered few details, saying the space plane simply provided a way to test new technologies in space, such as satellite sensors and other components.

It was slated to land 270 days later, which would have been in November, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the Air Force extended the mission and never announced an exact landing date. Air Force Lt. Austin Fallin confirmed last month that the X-37B is still in orbit.

Some industry analysts have theorized that because of its clandestine nature, the X-37B could be a precursor to an orbiting weapon, capable of dropping bombs or disabling foreign satellites as it circles the globe.

The Pentagon has repeatedly said the space plane is simply a "test bed" for other technologies.

-- Los Angeles Times