Stem cells in my Pepsi? A new crazy stem cell myth

PepsiJust when I thought that the myths about stem cells, particularly embryonic stem cells, couldn’t get any more fantastic (as in based on fantasy), we have some bright folks out there thinking that soda (pop, coke, pepsi, whatever you call it) is made using embryonic stem cells.

The headline goes: Pepsi is using embryonic stem cells to make better sodas.

While it is true that the enormous corporation that is Pepsi contributes relatively small amounts of money to study the effects of sugar and possible sugar substitutes on cells, the cells involved are in fact not stem cells. They are in reality a human kidney cell line used by thousands of labs around the world.

There is no real connection between Pepsi and embryonic stem cell research that I know of, although even if there was, I see that as no reason to boycott Pepsi.

But even so now reportedly we have a Republican, Ralph Shortey, from Oklahoma introducing a bill that would prohibit making or selling food products that use aborted human fetuses and reportedly the Pepsi stem cell myth is his inspiration.

No I’m not making this up. In fact, there is a very real boycott of Pepsi underway because of this myth.

For reference, the University of Michigan has an excellent website on stem cell myths.

12 thoughts on “Stem cells in my Pepsi? A new crazy stem cell myth


  1. I don’t know…Sounds like the end product would be that viscious south of the border aloe vera drink my youngest kid likes but no one else in the house will touch. Good grief, could it be his medical history and subsequent transplant has given him an fondness for such…? Oh my, this must be that “slippery slope” Prentice refers too. LOL


  2. It is difficult to continue battling complete idiots while we try to make real progress towards curing diseases. I sometime wonder about our stubbornness. Tilting windmills when we actually know they are windmills.


    • Good points, Jim! Sometimes by pointing out myths we simply draw more attention to them, but on the other hand I feel a need to try to correct misinformation. Sometimes it is not so clear which is the best course of action.


  3. You are right. We have to keep correcting the misinformation. I do the same, but sometimes the depth of the well of ignorance and the refusal to accept facts is depressing.


  4. HEK. Human Embryonic Kidney. Do you need a definition for embryonic? So, if people do have strong feelings on research done on something that started as an aborted child, personally, I think they have every right to boycott, and make their feelings known on the internet without this ridicule. I also think they should look into the other company’s that Senomyx works with, if they saw the whole list they would definitely have a harder time cutting everything out! It would probably be a big boost to local farmer’s markets though….


    • I completely agree that people have the right to free speech and to boycott companies based on any criteria (in fact 2 days ago I said this in a follow up post: http://www.ipscell.com/2012/03/the-truth-about-pepsi-stem-cells-larger-lessons-to-be-learned/ ).

      At the same time I have the right as a blogger and scientist to express my opinion as well. If you don’t like it, I’m not forcing you to read it. I’m also not personally insulting or ridiculing any individual.

      Yes, to the best of my knowledge, it is a fact that Senomyx, which does contract work for Pepsi, uses HEK cells to study artificial flavorings, etc. But HEK are not stem cells and there are no stem cells in Pepsi. These are what I’d call crazy myths.


    • Pam, thanks for you comment. I think good people can have differing views on things such as the HEK 293 cells that literally thousands of research labs use for studies including the ones who do contract work for Pepsi. Importantly these cells are not stem cells, but you are correct they come from an abortion.
      Also the cells themselves are to my knowledge not used in the actual food and/or beverages. Rather they are used for research on chemicals such as artificial sweeteners and it is the chemicals that end up in the Pepsi, etc.
      I personally am more concerned about drinking chemicals designed by some food chemist to fool me into thinking Pepsi tastes good or that some month old fake food item still is fresh, but I respect the fact that you may be more concerned about the cells used in the research on the development of those chemicals.


    • Pam, this cell line was established in the 1970s in a laboratory in the Netherlands. To the best of my knowledge, it is not at all clear whether it was from a spontaneous or induced abortion. This cell line is used in many, many laboratories in the US, Canada, Europe, etc to address diverse biological questions which include, for example, cancer (development of chemotherapies) and immunology (development of vaccines).


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  6. Have you even researched this at all? Try Google before calling other people morons.

  7. Pingback: Pepsi responds to fake stem cell issue | Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog

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