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Scientists grow beef cells in rice to make new protein-rich space food

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Scientists grow beef cells in rice to make new protein-rich space food

In a move that will make some stomachs growl and others turn, Korean scientists have taken muscle and fat stem cells from cows and transplanted them into grains of rice. The end result is a new, high-protein food that should be cheap, environmentally friendly, and useful for famines, military or space travel.

Our current farming practices aren’t particularly sustainable, and with billions more people on the way, the environmental impact is only projected to grow. As such, the future of food might look very different to what we’re used to, whether that’s growing meat in labs, eating insects for protein, or stoking microbes to produce nutritious powders.

Now, scientists in Korea have created a new kind of food that could form a future staple – a beef-rice hybrid. The principle is similar to growing meat cells in the lab, except this time they did so inside the pores of rice grains. The structure provided a stable scaffold for the animal cells, while certain molecules in rice helped them flourish.

The rice was first coated in fish gelatin, which helped the beef cells stick. Once seeded with the cow muscle and fat stem cells, the rice was left to culture for nine to 11 days. The end result is a pink rice that looks a bit eerie, but is apparently completely food safe and fairly nutritious.

The researchers steamed their beef-rice, and conducted a range of food industry analyses to investigate the unnatural creation. They found that it had 8% more protein and 7% more fat than plain rice, and a texture that was firmer and more brittle. Versions made with more muscle cells reportedly smelled more like beef or almonds, while those with higher fat content were described with notes closer to cream, butter or coconut oil.

The beef-rice should have a much smaller environmental footprint than meat. The researchers estimate that their creation should only release less than 6.27 kg (13.82 lb) of CO2 per 100 g of protein, compared to beef’s 50 kg (110 lb). Costs should be much lower too, with the beef-rice coming in around US$2.23 per kilogram, compared to beef’s $14.88.

The team says the nutritional and environmental benefits, along with the low food safety risks and easy manufacturing, should make the beef-rice a good candidate for commercialization. Before then, the scientists plan to boost its nutritional value by improving the conditions in the rice to help the beef cells thrive. After that, the final hurdle might just be convincing people to willingly eat it – but to be fair, the same could be said for many future foods.

“We usually obtain the protein we need from livestock, but livestock production consumes a lot of resources and water and releases a lot of greenhouse gas,” said Sohyeon Park, first author of the study. “I didn’t expect the cells to grow so well in the rice. Now I see a world of possibilities for this grain-based hybrid food. It could one day serve as food relief for famine, military ration, or even space food.”

The research was published in the journal Matter.

Source: Scimex



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