Why do South Koreans inject cultured beef cells into rice grains ?

Why do South Koreans inject cultured beef cells into rice grains ?

A la tête de cette équipe, le professeur Hong Jin-kee pense que son nouveau “riz à la viande” pourrait devenir un nouveau moyen écologique et éthique pour apporter des protéines. Anthony WALLACE/AFP

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.

At the head of this team, Professor Hong Jin-kee thinks that 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.

Cultured meat "is the first method of obtaining animal protein without slaughtering livestock&quot ;, tells AFP Mr. Hong, of Yonsei University in Seoul.

Across the world, companies 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.< /p>

Rice has a "slightly porous structure", says Hong, and once beef cells were injected into it, the grain offers "an ideal structure for the cells to develop uniformly".

Carbon footprint

Ce "rice with meat" contains 8% more protein and 7% 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 eat one meal a day, increasing the protein content slightly, even by 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 2022 in an investment fund for “foodtech”.

Cultured meat is already commercialized in Singapore and the United States, while Italy banned it last year, saying it wanted to protect its breeding. Experts say cultured meat raises questions, including 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 Seoul National University, in an article published on the Chuksan News website.

According to Mr. Hong's team, this hybrid rice method significantly reduces the carbon footprint of proteins 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.

Convince people

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. #39;environment", he told AFP.

Le "rice with meat" has the advantage of being a hybrid product "mixing animal cells and plant materials, which makes it less expensive and less energy intensive" than other cultured meats, he added.

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

Consultancy firm 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' ;#39;similar technology", he says in a 2019 study. Hong Jin-kee is convinced that biotechnologies can improve the way humans live&# 39;feed.

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

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 the state of health of a person thanks to blood tests, then ask a food processor to prepare the most suitable breakfast.

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