Researchers at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology have discovered a method for creating large quantities of human-derived gelatin, which in theory, could become a substitute for the thousands of tons of animal-based gelatin used in desserts, marshmallows, candies, and other products.
Gross! Why would anyone ever want to make human-based gelatin? The reason, according to researcher Jinchun Chen and his colleagues, is that animal-based gelatin is usually made from collagen in the bones and skins of cows and pigs, which means that there's a risk, however small, that the gelatin carries infectious diseases such as mad cow disease. Animal-based gelatin can also provoke immune system responses in some people. Hence, human-derived gelatin would be healthier and safer.
But -- isn't that some kind of indirect cannibalism? Asks Clay Dillow on Popsci.com. SF Weekly checked out the abstract of Chen's paper to see exactly what "human-derived" gelatin means.
What Chen and his team have done is inject human gelatin genes into a strain of yeast, using genetic engineering techniques. The modified yeast cells then produce the gelatin. So (phew!) it's not human bones and skins being boiled for collagen, as is done with animal-based gelatin, just bits of DNA. That's a bit better, though it still makes us queasy thinking about it.
According to Chen, the human-yeast gelatin is also more stable than animal-based gelatin, which has a high variability from batch to batch, so this method would allow for higher quality control. Their main goal is to use the human-derived gelatin for drug capsules and other medical applications, so it is unlikely that we'll see it in our food any time soon ... we hope.
For the scientifically inclined, you can access Chen's paper, "New Strategy for Expression of Recombinant Hydroxylated Human-Derived Gelatin in Pichia pastoris KM71," here.