Space Farmers of the Future May Grow Fungi, Flies and Microgreens

By Allison Parshall | Scientific American |

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN - A few weeks ago, I arrived hungry to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, ready for a unique culinary experience. Finalists of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency’s Deep Space Food Challenge had come from all across the planet to demonstrate how future astronauts might grow their own food. I descended upon a tiny cup of chocolate mousse topped with a raspberry.

“The challenge in space is: you can’t take a cow or a chicken with you,” said Karuna Rawal, chief marketing officer at Nature’s Fynd—a Chicago-based company that develops microbe-based proteins and has a finalist team in the competition—as I ate the mousse, which was made from microscopic fungi.* (The raspberry was just a raspberry.) I expected it to taste like grainy, bland protein powder, but it was smooth and rich. Unsated, I moved on to fungi-based “meatballs” in tomato sauce, which were as meatlike as any meat substitute I’ve had.

For some dietary diversity, other teams have their sights set on using larger, macroscopic organisms. Nolux, a team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Delaware, has developed a method of artificial photosynthesis that can grow oyster mushrooms without sunlight. Their method, published in Nature Foods, uses electrolysis to convert exhaled CO2 and water into oxygen and acetate. The acetate is then pumped into a growing chamber to feed the mushrooms, which can plump up in the dark in a matter of weeks. The process also works on algae and yeast and is more efficient than photosynthesis at converting energy into biomass.

“The beauty of the system is really how efficient it is,” says Nolux team member Marcus Harland-Dunaway. The team is now working on genetically modifying more traditional crops to take up energy from this alternative source, he says.



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