'Meaty Rice'? South Korean Professor Aims to Change Global Protein

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 shows professor Hong Jin-kee posing with a bowl containing pink "meaty rice" at the Yonsei University in Seoul. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 shows professor Hong Jin-kee posing with a bowl containing pink "meaty rice" at the Yonsei University in Seoul. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
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'Meaty Rice'? South Korean Professor Aims to Change Global Protein

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 shows professor Hong Jin-kee posing with a bowl containing pink "meaty rice" at the Yonsei University in Seoul. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 shows professor Hong Jin-kee posing with a bowl containing pink "meaty rice" at the Yonsei University in Seoul. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

In a small laboratory in Seoul, a team of South Korean scientists are injecting cultured beef cells into individual grains of rice, in a process they hope could revolutionize how the world eats.

From helping prevent famines to feeding astronauts in space, team leader and professor Hong Jin-kee believes his new so-called "meaty rice" could become an eco-friendly, ethical way for people to get their protein.

No animals were harmed in the creation of the dish, which looks like a regular bowl of rice -- albeit pink -- but it gives off a faint buttery aroma, the result of being packed with beef muscle and fat cell culture, Agence France Presse reported.

Using cultured meat, "we can obtain animal protein without the slaughter of livestock," Hong, of Seoul's Yonsei University, told AFP.

Companies worldwide have sought to commercialize meat alternatives, such as plant-based or cultured meat, due to ethical issues surrounding industrial livestock rearing, as well as environmental concerns linked to the greenhouse gas emissions from animal farming.

Hong, who has a background in organoids and biomedical sciences, chose rice for his research as the grain was already the top source of protein for people in Asia.

His process can be currently time-consuming: a regular rice grain is coated with fish gelatin to help with adherence, then individually injected with beef cells before being cultured in a petri dish for up to 11 days.

Rice possesses a "slightly porous structure", Hong said, and once the beef cells have been injected into the rice, the grain offers "an ideal structure for cells to grow uniformly from the inside out".

- Carbon footprint -

Hong's "meaty" rice contains eight percent more protein and seven percent more fat than regular rice.

Hong and his team are still working on how to scale the process, he said, but he hopes to get his creation approved as a relief food for emergency situations in two African countries.

"For those who are limited to... just one meal a day, a slight increase in (protein content), even by just a few percent, becomes incredibly important," he said.

South Korea has not yet approved any cultivated meat for consumption, but it announced in 2022 plans to plough millions of dollars into a "foodtech" fund, while separately identifying cell-cultured meat as a priority research area.

Cultivated meat is sold in Singapore and the United States, but Italy banned it last year citing a need to safeguard its livestock industry.

Some scholars say potential ethical concerns with cultured meat include the sourcing of the initial animal cells.

It is difficult to be "certain about the safety of the serum used in culture media, and the antibiotics and hormones added during the culturing process", Choi Yoon-jae, a former emeritus professor at Seoul National University, wrote in a column on the website Chuksan News.

According to Hong's team, their hybrid rice method significantly reduces protein's carbon footprint by eliminating the need to raise and farm animals.

For every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of protein produced, it releases 6.27 kilograms (13.8 pounds) of carbon dioxide, he estimates -- eight times less than traditional beef production.

- Would you eat it? -

Cultured meat has long been "presented as a climate solution compared to traditional livestock", said Neil Stephens, a lecturer on technology and society at the University of Birmingham.

But the sector faces challenges such as needing to be "produced at scale, and cheap, with low energy needs and environmentally friendly inputs," he told AFP.

"The 'meaty' rice might have an advantage over some other cultured meat products", as it is a hybrid product "mixing animal cells with plant material -- the rice -- making cheaper and less energy intensive," he said.

"This said, it would still need to prove its environmental credentials at scale -- and convince people to eat it. Both might be a challenge."

Global consultancy AT Kearney has predicted that by around 2040, only 40 percent of global meat consumption will come from conventional sources -- and the whole industry will be upended.

"Products such as milk, egg white, gelatin and fish can be created with similar technology," it said in a 2019 report.

Hong passionately believes that biotechnology can change the way humans consume food for the better.

For example, he said, an older person with sarcopenia -- muscle loss -- could eat lab-grown meat produced solely with muscle cells, not fat, to help ease their specific condition.

The world is on the cusp of an era where "more biological information becomes available and we need to meticulously control our food", he said.

This could mean, he said, that a future AI-infused kitchen could assess a person's health through a blood analysis, then instruct a robot to prepare the most suitable breakfast.



Saudi Team Wins 6 Awards at 2024 International Mathematical Olympiad in UK

Saudi Team Wins 6 Awards at 2024 International Mathematical Olympiad in UK
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Saudi Team Wins 6 Awards at 2024 International Mathematical Olympiad in UK

Saudi Team Wins 6 Awards at 2024 International Mathematical Olympiad in UK

Under the auspices of the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity "Mawhiba" and the Ministry of Education, the Saudi mathematics team won six awards at the 65th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) 2024 held in the UK from July 15 to 21.

The event featured 603 talented students from 104 countries, with the Saudi team securing 1 silver medal, 4 bronze medals, and 1 certificate of appreciation.

Hadi Al-Aithan from the Al-Ahsa education department won the silver medal, while Youssef Bakheet (Yanbu education department), Mohammed Rabie (Madinah education department), Muath Al-Qahtani (Al-Sharqiyah education department), and Ahmed Al-Shehri (Riyadh education department) received bronze medals.

Mohammad Al-Ghamdi from the Al-Sharqiyah education department was honored with a certificate of appreciation.

Secretary-General of Mawhiba Amal Al-Hazzaa extended her congratulations to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, for this remarkable national achievement.

She also congratulated the students, their families, schools, teachers, and education departments for their outstanding accomplishment and wished them continued success.

Al-Hazzaa described this triumph in such a prestigious competition as a moment of immense pride for the entire nation.

Furthermore, she underlined her gratitude to Minister of Education Youssef Al-Benyan for his unwavering support of Mawhiba and the exceptionally talented students in public education.

She commended the minister's dedication in providing necessary resources and opportunities, which have contributed to the fruitful partnership between the ministry and Mawhiba.

Furthermore, she highlighted Al-Benyan’s efforts to empower Saudi talents and propel them to greater heights of achievement through this collaboration.

Saudi Arabia's participation in the IMO 2024 is part of the Mawhiba International Olympiad program, which operates under a strategic partnership with the Ministry of Education. The program is one of 20 different initiatives offered annually by Mawhiba and the ministry, providing advanced curricula and enriching programs.

The initiatives offer a multi-phase journey for gifted students, exploring, boosting, and empowering their ambitions, in collaboration with local and international partners.

Students enrolled in the Mawhiba International Olympiad program undergo rigorous training, over 1,000 hours a year, in cooperation with the ministry. The training, focused on their chosen scientific track, is delivered under the guidance of local trainers and international Olympiad experts.

With this latest achievement, Saudi Arabia's tally of IMO awards has risen to 77, including 12 silver medals, 46 bronze medals, and 19 certificates of appreciation.