Can we share vampires’ appetite for synthetic blood?

18 October 2011

Vampires on the True Blood television series are already enjoying the advantages of synthetic blood. While this may seem to be only the imagination on the big screen, the true benefits of blood manufactured from embryonic stem cells may be less than a decade away.

It is unclear however whether society can develop an acceptance of cultured blood - or an appetite for synthetic meat produced by related technology.  For this reason it is vital the public has every opportunity to get involved with the latest developments in stem cell research, say researchers from the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Genomics Network.

Clips from the hugely popular True Blood TV show as well as the Twilight book and film series will provide a starting point for debate on recent biotechnology developments, including stem cell research, at a public event organised as part of the ESRC's Festival of Social Science 2011.

The audience will be able to discuss a range of issues from Twilight’s 'vegetarian vampires' to the possibilities of 'in vitro' meat. "The fact that synthetic blood features so prominently in the True Blood series is a great opportunity to get a new - particularly younger audience - thinking about these issues," emphasises Dr Christine Knight. "The biotechnology developments that enable production of blood and meat in the laboratory are likely to affect all of us in the coming years." For example, the potential to manufacture blood on demand for use in transfusions (up to 2 million units are needed a year) from embryonic stem cells could be a reality in just a decade from now.

However, research undertaken by the Genomics Network indicates that gathering public reactions to potential stem cell products will be key to the understanding some of the barriers encountered when introducing these products into a consumer market. Stem cell research is still considered controversial or unacceptable by some communities. "It’s vital that the impact of these technologies on society is taken into account - that people understand what’s involved and have the chance to learn about how and why technologies such as stem-cell derived blood products or synthetic meat are being developed.," says event speaker, Miss Emma King

Discussion of these issues, event speaker Dr Neil Stephens confirms, is crucial at this point in time. "Tissue engineering techniques could soon be applied to the production of food, producing in laboratories meat that has at no point has been part of a living animal. While at present vast technical challenges remain to the successful production of in vitro meat, the technology raises many questions for scientists, regulators and consumers to which there are no clear answers."

"It is entirely possible," he continues, "that with adequate funding in vitro meat could find a route to consumer markets and into human diets. It is equally possible that the technology could be wholly rejected by the consuming public, or might never move beyond the current stage of basic laboratory research. Will in vitro meat ever be a food, or just a Frankensteinian scientific misadventure? These are the sort of questions we need to be asking."

Organisers hope to draw a wide audience to this event, ranging from fans of vampire fiction and film, to those interested in the social and cultural impact of these technologies. Social scientists will be on hand to present the latest findings on in vitro blood and meat, stem cell research, as well as debate their potential impact on society.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors:

  1. Vampires and vegetarianism in the 21st century
    Organiser: Dr Christine Knight
    Date: 1 November 2011 16.00-18.00
    Venue: Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road, London
    Audience: Suitable for the general public
    For more information: Vampires and vegetarianism in the 21st century 
  2. This press release is based on findings from a range of projects currently undertaken within the ESRC Genomics Network (EGN). The EGN is a £25 million investment by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - dedicated to examining the development and use of the science and technologies of genomics. The activities of the EGN encompass the whole field of genomics, covering areas as diverse as DNA profiling and identity politics, plant and animal genetics, personal genomics, embryonic stem cell research, and synthetic biology. The EGN spans five of the UK's leading universities, and involves more than a hundred researchers, from professors to PhD students, as well as an international cast of visiting research fellows. It is one of the biggest social science investments in the ESRC's current portfolio, and has grown into the largest concentration of social scientific research on genomics in the world. More at www.genomicsnetwork.ac.uk
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 29 October to 5 November 2011. With events from some of the country's leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. This year's Festival of Social Science has over 130 creative and exciting events aimed at encouraging businesses, charities, government agencies; and schools or college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk