MANCHESTER, England -- Here's some good news that vegetarians can really sink their teeth into: Researchers have developed genetically engineered fruit trees that bear real meat!
Fruit from the new Meat Trees, developed by British scientists using gene-splicing technology, closely resembles ordinary grapefruit. But when you peel the large fruit open, inside is fresh beef.
"Our trees may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it's really a simple, down-to-earth idea whose time has come," declares Dr. Vincent Tartley, director of agricultural bioengineering research for the UltraModAgri Group, which created the amazing trees.
"Vegetarians have been complaining for years that despite their moral convictions against consuming meat, they still crave the flavor of a good steak once in a while. Now they can have their cake and eat it too."
Although it's taken 12 years to develop the trees, the concept is simple.
"We take the genes from cattle that produce key proteins and splice them into the reproductive cells of grapefruit trees," he says. "When the seeds mature into trees, instead of producing ordinary citrus fruit, the pulp contains meat. You get the flavor, texture -- even the smell."
Those who've sampled the meat agree it tastes like the real thing.
"I was a bit skeptical at first when I sank my teeth into a hamburger after they told me it grew on a tree," says Londoner Mark Basker, 41, who participated in a consumer taste-test. "But it was juicy and delicious -- nothing leafy about it at all."
Meat grown on trees needs only sun, water and fertilizer and thus is more cost-effective than raising livestock, Dr. Tartley also points out.
Meat Tree products could be on the market in Great Britain by year's end and, pending USDA approval, on dinner plates in the U.S. by 2005.
Some fanatical vegetarians insist they could never eat meat -- even if it grew on a tree and no animals had to be killed. Others love the idea.
"My mouth is watering already," says a committed vegetarian of 20 years.
But religious leaders are uneasy about "trans-species genetic engineering." "Mixing animal and vegetable DNA to create a new species is playing God," argues Rev. Lawrence Bedlow, Britain's leading expert in medical ethics.