COLUMBIA — Some Missouri farm groups are crying foul over the recent hiring of an MU scientist whose research is paid for by animal rights activists.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Nicholas Genovese joined the university's flagship campus in Columbia as a visiting scholar earlier this month. His research involves artificial meat created in laboratories from animal tissues.
Genovese previously worked at the Medical University of South Carolina but left when his mentor took a job in South America. At MU, he is paid through a three-year grant from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"This is the wave of the future," said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. "People who are environmentally aware are keen on this; animal rights advocates are keen on this; health advocates are keen on this. The only people who aren't keen are in a business that this will affect."
That includes members of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's most powerful agricultural lobbying group.
"Let me tell you," said Blake Hurst, the bureau's president. "My farmer friends are exercised."
R. Michael Roberts, a prominent university biologist and stem cell researcher who is supervising Genovese, emphasized that the scientist is not a university employee. Genovese declined comment.
He's essentially a private citizen who chose to work with me," Roberts said. "I'm getting a well-trained young scientist to work in an area that interests me."
Roberts hopes that Genovese's research will help the lab create cultured tissue for human and livestock medical research.
Roberts' recent work has focused on the transformation of animal cells into embryonic stem cells. Two years ago, his research team used pigs' connective tissue to create "induced" stem cells that act like embryonic cells and can potentially be converted into tissue cells without using actual embryos.
"I'm interested in these cells to get them to differentiate toward muscles," Roberts said. "That's the primary component of most meat."
Roberts said that Genovese sought him out several months ago after his mentor, Vladimir Mironov, moved to Brazil to work for a large meat company. He is known for his efforts to grow in vitro meat from animal stem cells.
Newkirk said the artificial meat research — which has yet to be proven commercially viable — "has put the wind up the skirts of these farmers who are getting all panicky and apparently haven't been following trends in eating."