“Rice with meat” or how a South Korean wants to revolutionize proteins

“Rice with meat” or how a South Korean wants to revolutionize proteins
“Rice with meat” or how a South Korean wants to revolutionize proteins

In a laboratory in Seoul, a team of South Korean scientists injects cultured beef cells into rice grains, with the hope that their invention will one day revolutionize food.

Leading this team, Professor Hong Jin-kee believes his new “rice with meat” could become a new ecological and ethical way to provide protein, whether to help prevent famines or to feed astronauts in space.

The resulting dish looks like a regular bowl of rice, but pink in color and has a slight buttery aroma, coming from the cultured muscle cells and beef fat it contains.
Cultivated meat “is the first method to obtain animal proteins without slaughtering livestock,” Mr. Hong, of Yonsei University in Seoul, told AFP.

Companies around the world are seeking to market alternatives to meat, such as plant-based meat substitutes or cultured meat, in the face of ethical and environmental questions raised by factory farming.
Hong Jin-kee chose rice for his cultured meat research because the grain is already the leading source of protein in Asia.

He developed a long and complex process: grains of ordinary rice are coated with fish gelatin for adhesion, then individually injected with beef cells before culturing them for 11 days.

Rice has a “slightly porous structure,” Hong says, and once beef cells are injected, the grain provides “an ideal structure for the cells to grow evenly.”
This “meat rice” contains 8 percent more protein and 7 percent more fat than regular rice, according to Mr. Hong.

The scientist and his team are still working to replicate the process on a larger scale, hoping that his invention will become an approved food for emergency situations in two African countries.
“For those who only have one meal a day, increasing the protein content slightly, even by just a few percent, is extremely important,” he explains.

South Korea has not yet authorized the consumption of cultured meat, but it has made it a priority area of ​​research and announced millions of dollars in a foodtech investment fund in 2022.

Cultured meat is already marketed in Singapore and the United States, while Italy banned it last year, saying it wanted to protect its livestock.
According to experts, cultured meat raises questions, particularly about the origin of the animal cells used.

It is difficult to be “certain about the safety of the serum used in the culture media, as well as the antibiotics and hormones added during the culture process,” notes Choi Yoon-jae, former professor emeritus at the university. Seoul National News Agency, in an article published on the Chuksan News website.

According to Hong’s team, this hybrid rice method significantly reduces the carbon footprint of protein by eliminating the need to raise animals.
For 100 grams of protein produced, it releases only 6.27 kilograms of carbon dioxide, estimates the professor, or eight times less than beef from livestock.

Cultivated meat has long been presented as an ecological technology, because it is low in emissions, compared to traditional livestock farming, underlines Neil Stephens, professor specializing in technology and society issues at the British University of Birmingham.
But this sector still faces major challenges, such as producing “on a large scale and at low prices, with low energy requirements and environmentally friendly inputs”, he told AFP.

“Rice with meat” has the advantage of being a hybrid product “mixing animal cells and plant materials, which makes it cheaper and less energy-intensive” than other cultured meats, he said. -he adds.

“That said, we still need to prove its environmental credentials on a large scale and convince people to eat it. Two things that could be difficult,” concedes Mr. Stephens.

Consultancy AT Kearney has predicted that by around 2040, just 40% of global meat consumption will come from traditional livestock farming, which is expected to shake up the industry.

“Products such as milk, egg white, gelatin and fish can be created using similar technology,” he claims in a 2019 study.
Hong Jin-kee is convinced that biotechnology can improve the way humans eat.

For example, an elderly person losing muscle mass could eat cultured meat, produced only from muscle cells, not fat, to improve their condition, he explains.

The world is at the dawn of an era where “more information of a biological nature becomes available and where we must meticulously control our diet”, says the scientist.

According to him, the kitchen of the future, using artificial intelligence, could assess a person’s health status through blood tests, then ask a kitchen robot to prepare the simplest breakfast. adapted.



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