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Rice combined with beef cells? Scientists are developing hybrid food

South Korean scientists have developed a new type of sustainable hybrid food combining rice and beef cells that they say could help solve food crises and mark progress on climate change.

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This new rice was grown in the laboratory by researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul and contains bovine muscle and fat cells.

The result looks like pink rice, which the team believes could provide an alternative to meat that is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly, while leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

“Imagine if we got all the nutrients we need from a protein rice grown in cells,” said Park So-hyeon, co-author of the study.

“Rice is already high in nutrients, but adding cells from livestock can boost this even further,” she said in a news release issued Wednesday when the study was published in Matter magazine.

The rice grains were coated with fish gelatin to make it easier for bovine cells to adhere and then cultured for 11 days.

According to the research team, the final product contained 8% more protein and 7% more fat compared to regular rice, while being firmer and crumblier than natural grains.

The latest lab-developed version leaves a significantly smaller carbon footprint than meat because it doesn't require animal farming, which “uses a lot of resources and water and releases a lot of greenhouse gases,” Mr Park said.

For every 100 grams of protein produced, hybrid rice is estimated to release less than 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, eight times less than beef production, the release said.

If commercialized, this hybrid rice would be a much cheaper option for consumers in South Korea, with an estimated retail price of about $2.23 per kilo, compared to about $15 for beef.

The team plans to further improve this new rice before commercialization, allowing the cells in the grains to grow better and increasing its nutritional value.

“I now see a whole world of possibilities for this hybrid food,” Ms. Park said. “It could one day provide food aid in the event of a famine, be incorporated into military rations, or even feed astronauts.”