and disgusting! That's the way my wife described her first
visit to a slaughter house while in college. I am pretty sure
that is how thousands of veterinary students and animal science
majors may feel every year when they visit a slaughter house
as part of their education. The experience was so traumatic,
after that day one of her classmates even became a vegetarian.
It was not any different when it was my turn to visit a slaughter
house. You need nerves of steel and a stomach made of iron
to walk through a place like that. I read somewhere that society
can be measured by the way they treat their prisoners in jail.
The same may apply to the way we treat animals in the slaughter
What I am going to discuss
today is not a private fantasy nor does it belong to the world
of Star Trek. It is something proposed by K. Eric Drexler
many years ago. To those of you who are not familiar with
the work of Eric Drexler, he is one of the founders of the
Nanotechnology Research and author of one of the most significant
books in this field titled "Engines of Creations".
Nanotechnology deals with molecular engineering or the ability
to manipulate atoms and molecules so we can take control over
the physical characteristics of an object. According to Drexler,
once you have control of the structure of matter, this would
mean having complete control over the biology, which eventually
would turn out in the eradication of diseases, aging, poverty
and hunger. It is the topic of hunger that all of you who
are interested in the humane treatment of food animals may
need to pay special attention; because nanotechnology may
bring the need for slaughter houses to an end.
What Drexler proposed almost
35 years ago was that once humanity has developed molecular
engineering to the level of having the ability to control
atoms and molecules, a technique can be developed so we can
physically transform common materials into fresh meat. In
other words, you can get a couple of roses from your garden
or that old spare tire in your garage and through molecular
manipulation create 5 pounds of fresh meat in a couple of
hours. Sounds crazy? I know at this moment you may think this
is only Star Trek fiction, but if nanotechnology can deliver
its wonderful promises, this may be the scenario at some moment
during our lifetime.
But how can this incredible
idea be accomplish? Well, what nanotechnology is really trying
to do is imitate nature. So, let us take for example the beef
production from cattle; we can consider cows as walking beef
machines if you like the analogy. What materials do cattle
use to produce beef? You can say grass, air, water and sunlight.
None one of these things look remotely like a steak. Mix them
all together and they look like mashed grass. But how cattle
can produce beef using such elements? From the nanotechnological
point of view, we found the answer in a serial transformation
and rearrangement of molecules. Cattle make beef by breaking
the chemical bonds between certain molecules, shuffling those
molecules around together with new ones, and establishing
other chemical bonds in the patterns characteristic of beef.
In other words, by placing the required molecules into the
necessary configuration a cow can produce beef. If a cow can
do that, then we through the use of nanotechnology can do
the same. The difference is that cattle produce beef biologically,
by means of enzymes and other organic reactive agents bumping
into each other in liquids; while nanotechnology is going
to use mechanical work to rearrange molecules into the desired
Today Drexler's proposal may
look like a far away dream for those who believe in the humane
treatment of all species of animals, especially of those used
for food production. We have only just begun to give the first
steps in the field of nanotechnology. If the progress in this
field of research continues, maybe one-day humanity can use
it applications for the production of food and our dependency
on food animals and slaughter houses would decrease. Right
now our duty is to keep Drexler's proposal alive and support
the research in the scientific field, so one day this dream
can come true.
Note: This article appeared
originally at The Nanotechnology Magazine in 2001
Jose Feneque, DVM, received his Bachelor of Science degree
in Animal Industry at the University of Puerto Rico in 1991
and his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University
of Georgia in 1996.
practices as an associate veterinarian at Crossroads Animal
Hospital in Miami, Florida and is a member of the Science
Advisory Board for the Nanotechnology Development Corporation.
His special interests include the veterinary applications
of nanotechnology, veterinary pediatrics, soft tissue surgery
and internal medicine.
can be contacted by phone at (305) 279- 2000 or via email