Saving the planet: Rubisco plant protein

The plant protein that could push meat off your plate
Washington Post by Michael J. Coren June 27, 2023
Michael is a journalist writing the “Climate Coach” advice column for The Washington Post. Before joining the Post in 2022, he spent nearly two decades as a reporter and editor covering climate, technology, and economics for outlets such as Quartz and He was also the managing editor of Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post.

… Decrepit recreational vehicles squat on the property. In one corner, people tend to vials, grow lights and centrifuges in a trailer lab. More than a dozen big ponds filled with duckweed, a tiny green plant, bask in the Southern California sunshine. Within each tiny floating aquatic plant is a molecule colloquially called rubisco. Without it, most life on Earth would cease to exist.

Plants use rubisco protein — technically known as Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase — as the catalyst for photosynthesis, combining CO2 from the air with the building blocks for sugars and carbohydrates composing the base of our food chain.

Rubisco is arguably the most abundant protein on the planet. Every green leaf has it. But this tireless molecule is locked inside plants’ cells, spoiling almost as soon as it comes into contact with the outside world. At the moment, eating salads is the only way to consume much of it.

Rubisco doesn’t just provide the protein we crave. It’s one of the world’s most versatile proteins, shape-shifting into forms resembling egg whites, meat, milk, gluten or even steak — all extracted from leaves. If we can harvest enough, it may elevate plants from a side dish to the main course — and as I found, it tasted delicious.

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