...read the wave
Guest Writer - Gastautor - Gast Schrijver

Dr. Jose Feneque

Associate Veterinarian,
Crossroads Animal Hospital
Miami, Florida





Gross 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 houses.

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 pattern.

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


Dr. 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.

He 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.

He can be contacted by phone at (305) 279- 2000 or via email at jfeneque@nanotechnologydevelopment.com.


Copyright © 2004 Jose Feneque

Dr. Jose Feneque DVM


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