Human-derived gelatin could be included as a main ingredient in future diets, reports Andrew Marszal from The Telegraph.
According to a new study by scientists from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology, a new technique for making gelatin from human DNA is attracting “increasing interest from research and industrial circle.”
The researchers revealed that successful experiments had been carried out in which human genes were inserted into a strain of yeast to “grow” large amounts of recombinant human gelatin.
Gelatin has a history of use as a gelling agent by the food industry and human-derived gelatin “could become a substitute for some of the 300,000 tons of animal-based gelatin produced annually for desserts, marshmallows, candy and innumerable other products,” according to the researchers.
The Food Standards Agency told Marszal: “There would be a restriction on the sale or import of this type of product, because it would require a pre-market safety assessment.”
Scientists do not believe that the new gelatin product would pose any risk.
“There’s a very high degree of similarity between gelatin that comes from a cow, a pig, and a human,” Dr David Olsen, senior scientist at FibroGen, which specializes in recombinant gelatins, said in a statement. “So due to their similarities, I can’t see why there would be a health risk to it. It’s a very similar protein to what people have been ingesting for many years.”
Human-derived gelatin is already in use by the pharmaceutical industry in the manufacture of certain pills and vaccines. The highly controlled production techniques of the laboratory offer a more consistent product than “traditional” gelatin, which is derived from bones and skin of pigs and cows.
Human genes are used by pharmaceutical firms in the production of insulin for diabetics, human growth hormone, and erythropoietin.
The Beijing University scientists believe their method offers many health advantages over animal-derived gelatin.
Researchers from the Sapporo Medical University of Japan reported an increase in allergic reactions to animal-derived gelatin in vaccines.
It still remains to be seen whether there is an appetite for human protein among the public.
Dr Gregory Kaebnick, of the US-based Hastings Center For Bioethics and Public Policy, says the idea of human-derived gelatin “appears to raise the question of cannibalism.”
“The gelatin is not derived from human tissue in the same way that animal gelatin is,” he says. “It’s really derived from yeast – yeast that have been modified with genetic sequences found in human beings.”
The research was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.