Rice grain modified to add lab grown beef

Rice is a nutritious staple food for much of the world, and now researchers in Korea have made it more nutritious, adding lab grown muscle and fat.

The resulting pink tinged rice grains might not be appetising to look at, but according to the researchers has a ‘pleasant and novel flavour’.

“Imagine obtaining all the nutrients we need from cell-cultured protein rice,” says first author Sohyeon Park from Yonsei University, South Korea.

“Rice already has a high nutrient level, but adding cells from livestock can further boost it.”

Lab grown meat has been on the horizon for around a decade now, but it’s still got plenty of hurdles to overcome.

Although geneticists and bioengineers can grow muscle or fat cells individually, putting them into a structure to form steaks, or even muscle fibres is harder than it sounds.

The researchers overcame this problem by using rice strengthened with fish gelatine and enzymes to grow the fat and muscle cells separately, forming rice grains with marbling of either meat or fat.

Growing animal muscle and fat cells inside rice grains 1 credit yonsei university
The hybrid rice. Credit: Yonsei University

Well, kind of meat – the rice protein was 18.54% genetically identical to the bovine tissue protein originally inserted. This took about 10 days from being ‘seeded’ to fully formed.

The hybrid rice had 8% more protein and 7% more fat than regular rice, and was firmer but brittler than regular rice.

The team also noted that the rice with muscle had a beefy or almondy smell to it, while those with the fat had compounds that correspond to cream, butter, and coconut oil.

“I didn’t expect the cells to grow so well in the rice,” says Park. “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.”

Read more: World first as disease resistant GM banana approved for consumption

Like most lab grown meat, the rice was ‘grown’ on a mixture which included foetal bovine serum, so it’s not exactly ‘meat free’, but if the rice mixture could be weened off the serum it could be an effective way to create cheap, nutritionally denser food.

“Cell-organised rice grains exhibited distinct morphological and mechanical properties compared with bare rice grains, and these differences influenced the texture of cooked rice significantly,” the team writes in its paper.

“This strategy is a hybrid technology in which food, a scaffold, and cells are mutually beneficial and can be widely applied to other ingredients by optimizing the interactions between the materials.”

The research has been published in Matter.

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