Could a rice-meat hybrid be what’s for dinner?

A new take on lab-grown meat infuses cow cells into rice grains

pinkish meat-infused rice in a white bowl

It may look like a bowl of chopped brains, but this pinkish product is actually a rice-meat hybrid.

Yonsei University

Foodies of the future may be dining on beefed-up rice.

A new lab-grown meat product merges rice grains with cow cells, scientists report February 14 in Matter. The rice acts as a scaffold that supports the growth of fat or muscle cells. Together, the ingredients form a rice-meat hybrid that steams up to a pinkish-brown mash.

It tasted delicious, “nutty and a little sweet,” says Sohyeon Park, a chemical engineer at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Lab-made beefy rice isn’t ready for the dinner table yet, she says, but it could one day offer a more sustainable way to eat meat. 

Current methods for producing meat include farming cattle, which requires vast expanses of pastureland and emits more than 100 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year. Finding ways to eschew the moo may be better for the environment, scientists suggest. Some potential alternatives include cricket farming and swapping meat for fermented fungal spores (SN: 5/2/19; SN: 5/5/22).

Lab-grown meat is another way to cut the cow (mostly) out of the equation. In the lab, Park and colleagues coated rice grains with fish gelatin and enzymes and then added cow cells to each grain. The fishy coating helped the cells stick to and grow inside the grains. And rice offers a 3-D structure for cells to cling to, like vines climbing a trellis. That structure gives the cultured cells a more meatlike heft, Park says. On their own, the cells grow in thin, flat layers.

Nutritionally, the hybrid rice is more sizzle than steak, with just 8 percent more protein than conventional rice. But Park hopes to boost that number by packing more cow cells into each grain. Rice wasn’t originally on her radar; but the grains worked surprisingly well, she says. What’s more, they’re inexpensive, nutritious and already popular — a grade-A ingredient. 

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

More Stories from Science News on Agriculture