There is a forgotten recipe that makes food from “thin air.” A microbial recipe was created to feed astronauts on long space missions that could help those here on earth who don’t have access to food. Around 795 million people on earth don’t have enough food to lead a healthy and active life. That is 1 out of 9 people on earth. Many of those who don’t have enough food live in developing countries, where 12.9% of the population is undernourished. Each year, around 31 million children under five years old die due to poor nutrition.
Over 50 years ago, NASA worked out a microbial recipe to keep astronauts from starving on Mars missions or beyond. Those microbes could actually feed those millions around the globe who go hungry every year. The types of microbes that NASA worked on were bacteria, hydrogenotrophs, that can harvest energy from the air, CO2, and water — and use these elements to create nutritious protein. The bacteria is fueled by hydrogen, not light, to make food from CO2 in the same manner plants use the energy of the sun’s warm rays in photosynthesis.
A few synthetic biology companies are finally taking the torch and moving forward with solutions for earth.
Scot Bryson, CEO of Orbital Farm, told Forbes that, “This technology was developed over 50 years ago for space and was never used for earth, which meant all that knowledge ended up getting lost in time.” Think about that for a moment. Here, we have a way to end hunger on earth. Think of all the millions who go without food all around the world. Think of your local food pantry — always in need of canned goods to help the poor and needy of your communities. Imagine if we all had access to this food from thin air — food that could nourish us.
NovoNutrients is a synthetic biology company that is hoping to create a circular economy in space, but it will start here on earth. “A lot of what we do adds value to aquaponics and a circular economy in space, but we believe it’s something that can be economical on Earth first.” Currently, we are destroying our planet to feed the billions living on it. We chop up forests, overuse our fields and soils, and not only are we polluting the oceans, but we are overfishing them as well. We need to find a way to feed ourselves that doesn’t require something that could send us into mass extinction. “We’re all about feeding the future. The mission is for spaceship Earth. How do we build a system to feed ten billion people in a more sustainable way?” asks Lisa Dyson, the CEO of Air Protein. Her company is answering that question by making sustainable meat from the air.
Dyson poses to Forbes, “We ask the question, how do we build this up with a new type of technology without needing the animal?” Air Protein explains how it’s done. You exhale CO2 and it is captured by microbes and then converted along with other inputs, such as power and water, into food. Every breath you exhale could enable hydrogenotrophs to continue producing an endless cycle of food.
In America, more than 37 million people struggle with hunger. Many families that experience food insecurity don’t qualify for federal nutrition programs — most likely they made a few dollars too much — and rely on food banks and other types of support instead. Or they go without food. Imagine not having to go without food because you can just exhale it out in the form of CO2 and convert that into food. This sounds incredibly sci-fi, but if the technology can be developed by companies such as Air Protein, then an end to world hunger can be seen. My mother once told me that food didn’t come from thin air. Today, she has been proven wrong. NASA made food from thin air. We can, too.
Image by Air Protein