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Future Astronauts May Survive On Eating Silkworms 384

sciencehabit writes "Science reports that silkworms may be an ideal food source for future space missions. They breed quickly, require little space and water, and generate smaller amounts of excrement than poultry or fish. They also contain twice as many essential amino acids as pork does and four times as much as eggs and milk. Even the insect's inedible silk, which makes up 50% of the weight of the dry cocoon, could provide nutrients: The material can be rendered edible through chemical processing and can be mixed with fruit juice, sugar, and food coloring to produce jam."
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Future Astronauts May Survive On Eating Silkworms

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  • Food for thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jerep ( 794296 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:03PM (#26449621)

    Now we just have to solve this space radiation issue and how to shield astronauts from it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mikkeles ( 698461 )

      We also have to deal with the inevitable PETA protests.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trawg ( 308495 )

      I seem to recall some sci-fi book I read where they'd solved the problem by surrounding the astronauts with water (ie, the ship's water supply was basically in the hull). I can't recall any of the details, but that's always stuck in my mind as a vaguely good idea, assuming it works, as you need heaps of water anyway and if you can double it as a radiation shield then so much the better!

  • gross (Score:5, Funny)

    by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:04PM (#26449633)
    so what do they taste like??
    can we make them taste like bacon?
  • Cutlery! (Score:4, Informative)

    by mrRay720 ( 874710 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:04PM (#26449637)

    If you can find a way to properly polymerise their silk, you could even make plastic knives and forks (or better, a spork) out of their silk to eat them with.

    Breed larger silkworks and you could even use them to make the plates to eat them from! BONUS!

  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:05PM (#26449651)
    They started drinking their own pee, and now they're gonna eat silkworms? No wonder why kids don't dream of becoming astronauts anymore, this thing is more awful than Survivor!
    • by db32 ( 862117 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#26449939) Journal
      I dunno...young kids think pee drinking and worm eating is funny and often do strange things of that nature. What killed it for me was "Oh wow, Astronaut Ice Cream!" *munch* *munch* "This is disgusting semiflavored chalk! To hell with this nonsense."

      It doesn't help that the previous generation had Apollo 11 and that "one small step" thing as a huge success. Then they had Apollo 13 and "Houston we've had a problem" that while missing the moon turned into a huge survival story success. My generation has had the Challenger and Columbia *kaboom* everyone dead stories. Now...building the Mir space station was a big story when I was a little kid. I remember our science teacher had us save our little milk carton things from lunch until we could build a huge one to hang up. Of course that one ended in a publicity stunt with Taco Bell promising free tacos if Mir hit some giant floating target in the ocean.

      The previous generation got all the really cool and amazing space stories. My generation has gotten a few monumental failures, some publicity stunts, and space robots (which are pretty cool, but not a whole lot of that man to the moon excitement stuff).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by powerlord ( 28156 )

        My generation has had the Challenger and Columbia *kaboom* everyone dead stories.

        I dunno. I guess it depends how old you are.

        I remember missing a week of school with the chicken pox the first time the Columbia flew, and how exciting it was.

        I also remember my father surprising me with a trip down to Florida to watch the space shuttle take off.

        We drove back and forth to the cape every morning before sunrise to get our pass and get bussed from the main gate out to the viewing peninsula.

        Ended up being the Cha

  • Hey (Score:5, Funny)

    by IceCreamGuy ( 904648 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:05PM (#26449655) Homepage
    "What's for dinner tonight, Dave?"
    "Oh, I don't know, Frank, how about... MORE FU(#1NG WORMS!?"
    "Just calm down and pass the worm jam."
  • oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:07PM (#26449699)
    Fear Factor: Astronaut Edition
  • Wow, great timing! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phillymjs ( 234426 ) <slashdot AT stango DOT org> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:10PM (#26449745) Homepage Journal

    Now Hershey's can spin this nasty incident [] as test marketing of their new Space Brownies!


  • Why bother with silkworms and such stupid things, when soilent green is availble, eh?
  • And if you get really bored in your new space habitat, you can make sexy underwear to keep your colony's population rising. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thanshin ( 1188877 )

      And if you get really bored in your new space habitat, you can make sexy underwear to keep your colony's population rising. :)

      It doesn't matter how much silk underwear you use, you still won't reproduce with a silkworm.

  • by Bobartig ( 61456 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:16PM (#26449873) Homepage

    Seen 'em all over the place in Korea from street carts. They always have this particular insect trifecta: Silk Worms, Crickets, and freshwater Snails: []

  • Real astronauts drink Tang.
  • Food Coloring? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fractalVisionz ( 989785 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:18PM (#26449921) Homepage

    The material can be rendered edible through chemical processing and can be mixed with fruit juice, sugar, and food coloring to produce jam.

    Do we really need to waste precious cargo space and weight to bring up food coloring? I suppose astronauts might want green or purple catchup too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Do we really need to waste precious cargo space and weight to bring up food coloring? I suppose astronauts might want green or purple catchup too.

      All the precious cargo space in the world is pretty pointless if your crew gets pissed off and starts smashing things because they have spent the last 6 months in radioactive isolation while eathing nothing but mushed bugs. Even the most adamant basement dweller of Slashdot would go nuts if subjected to the monotony that would be interplanetary space-travel.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I think a lot of slashdotters, including me anyways, would love the monotony. No fancy surprises, always knowing exactly what to do. Paradise!
  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#26449931) Journal

    Benchilada eats silkworm pupae [] live on video, So You Don't Have To []. (not mentioned in the video is the fact that his friend, helping him, started throwing up convulsively soon after they finished filming the episode.)

  • by Cheerio Boy ( 82178 ) * on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#26449947) Homepage Journal
    Astronaut 1, "But where in my contact does it say that I have to eat the same food for breakfast everyday for three years?"

    Astronaut 2,"Paragraph 47, subsection 19, cause 9a. You can find it in the index under S.U.A.E.I."

    Astronaut 1,"S.U.A.E.I.?"

    Astronaut 2,"Shut up and eat it."

    Apologies to Babylon 5.
  • by nasor ( 690345 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:22PM (#26450007)
    The big issue with space missions in mass. Silk worms aren't going to magically create silk worm meat (or whatever you call it) from nothing - for ever 1 kg of silk worm that you grow to eat, you will have to bring along at least 1 kg of silkworm food. So why not just bring human-edible food instead of silk worm food?
    • by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:36PM (#26450267)
      Several points:

      1) The article states that Silkworms seem to be the most compact form of Human-edible food. 1kg of Silkworm Meat will give you far more nutrients and proteins than 1kg of Chicken meat.

      2) For a long-term space mission, (we're talking at -least- decades from now) you would need a renewable food source that ultimately converts solar energy into consumable chemical energy, since Humans can't eat sunlight. So futuristic Arcology-like spaceships might have greenhouses to harness solar energy, and astronauts could eat grown food. However, even Vegans need vitamin supplements and the article states that for protein and nutrient purposes, Silkworms make a great compact, efficient, renewable food source.
    • for ever 1 kg of silk worm that you grow to eat, you will have to bring along at least 1 kg of silkworm food

      I think the silkworms get "reprocessed" into silkworm food.

    • Meat goes bad.
      Vegetables rehydrate better, also they are easier to grow, using sun energy.

      Beans in space for protein just seems like a bad idea to me. Also I think it takes the correct type of person to be a full vegetarian, I tried once it was pure torture. For others it was quite easy, and for others somewhere in the middle, kinda like a standard deviation curve you know. I think most people need some meat for their body to function properly, granted Americans eat to much meat, but we need some for a heal

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sakdoctor ( 1087155 )

      More like 10kg of food. (Figure I just plucked out of the air)
      Not all the food will be converted to biomass. Much will be wasted on metabolic processes.

    • The real worry is, under the influence of long term exposure to space radiation, the silk worms might show some interesting mutations. Like football size eggs, and an direct, so inverse, correlation between the number of silk worms and the number of crew members...
    • by RobBebop ( 947356 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:45PM (#26450479) Homepage Journal

      So why not just bring human-edible food instead of silk worm food?

      "Human-edible food" is like this simple loop that most people here should understand:

      ---> for (int x=100; x--; x>0)

      After the function ends, the astronaunts die. I think I've read that astronauts "consume" 10kg of materials (air,water,food) per day so that it would cost 300kg to support somebody for a month if nothing ever got recycled. What space colonists need is a simple food-chain like this:

      ----> while (1) { plants(Sun, Fertiziler); silkworm(Plants); humans(Silkworm); }

      In this way, you can recycle the processed waste from the silkworm and the humans (i.e. the "Fertilizer") and combine that with available Sunlight to generate a continuous cycle of food. And when "not dying" is the goal, it really won't matter how it tastes.

  • or go vegetarian? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:25PM (#26450065)

    Given that it costs more to raise an animal on vegetable feed than you gain by eating it, why not just eat the food that they're feeding the silkworms ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 )

      Actually, insect protein is about as close to eating vegetarian, environmentally, as you can get without being a vegetarian.

      Of course, you can survive on a vegetarian diet, but it's not always the easiest or lowest impact way of eating. For example, you can buy a goat for a third world family [] from a non-profit development agency. They graze on things humans (and indeed most animals) can't eat, but they produce milk, wool and eventually meat at very little cost. I've bought some of these. For $175, y

  • So the next generation of astronauts will be able to weave their own Vera Wang spacesuits? Sign me up!
  • by Cthefuture ( 665326 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:26PM (#26450085)

    This should be great for their fledgling space program and will prove they're committed to a peaceful future. They have vast quantities of old Silkworms [] laying around ready to be made into food. Gives a whole new meaning to the term explosive diarrhea though.

    "Make dinner, not war" is what I always say.

  • From TFA: (Score:2, Funny)

    by A. B3ttik ( 1344591 )

    ...each astronaut would need to consume 170 silkworm pupae and cocoons a day to fulfill their animal protein needs. That number might be difficult to raise on a cramped spaceship but could be more feasible than raising an equivalent number of chickens.

    I guess I took it for granted that 170 silkworms would be easier to raise than 170 chickens.

  • The song (Score:3, Funny)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 ) <> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:27PM (#26450113) Journal
    Nobody likes me
    Everybody hates me
    Going into space to eat worms!
  • The romance of space travel just went down in flames.
  • Scratch astronaut off my list of things I want to be when I grow up. That leaves only cowboy or truck driver.

  • I'm not doing any Mars excursion after filling up on a big bowl of silkworms. Stop cheaping out, put a freeze unit in the space ship and gimme a few cow carcasses.
  • Bah Beardie food! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Coraon ( 1080675 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:40PM (#26450351)
    My bearded dragon eats these things...we even have a small colony of silks that we raise. Mulberry (which is what you feed them) is actually kinda hard to get some seasons though it does come in a green brick mulch form, I personally wouldn't want to eat silks, as I've seen the beardie eat them live and its damn right icky. Personally I'd rather eat tofu...
  • Are these human or klingon astronauts we are talking about?
  • by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:11PM (#26451087) Homepage Journal

    A Navy friend of mine worked on a Sub for many years. He always thought it was ironic that for a mission that required stealth they always seemed to have some of the loudest food you could find. Even MREs are edible, normal food.

    Nothing in the exploration of space requires such nonsense self-depravation and oddities that keep getting leaked. I swear this is just a poly for more money.

    Flour Torillas and refried beans is a remarkable compact food with spreadable cheese (think like butter) is easy to make. Even in zero G. Microwave it and you are good to go. The ideal of using silk worms is laughable when canned pastes and flat breads store very densely.

    Here is a great "at home" experiment. Make a PBJ upside down. Doable with jelly in a squeeze bottle.

    I mean seriously this is the most idiotic thing I have heard.

    Can of refried beans is a more dense food source.

    Suppliments can handle any short comings in the food supply.

    How about:
    Refried Beans
    beef jerky
    whole grain frozen bagels
    squeezy cheese

    All of those can be packed\frozen\thawed with little trouble in dense formats.

    Hell I know body builders that live on nothing but hard boiled eggs, whole grain bagels with peanut butter, diced chicken, milk, and tuna fish. 7 days a week. Years on end (excluding unusual meals on dates, holidays, etc.)

    Chicken meat can be processed much like Spam and con be stored in a very compact space. Taking a cue from Tuna packaging you can use lightweight, vaccum sealed mylar bags to store the food. I have not tried freezing a hard boiled egg and thawing one to eat but bagels and even peanut butter seem to survive the freezer ok.

    The key is density and as usual all things can be measured against SPAM for food density... :)

    • by rudeboy1 ( 516023 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:30PM (#26452699)

      What you're not getting, is that they're concerned with finding a food source that can be replicated while en route to Mars. Say the Mars crew was 5 people strong. 3 years is 1095 days. For 5 people to eat 3 square meals a day, that's 5475 servings of food. Scratch that, not servings, but complete meals, which generally represent at least a couple servings of various food groups. The concern is that A.)You're packing a ton of extra weight that has to break Earth's gravity, and then adding in additional fuel to compensate, which then makes the craft even heavier. B.) That much food, even in compact forms like tuna cans and beef jerky, is still going to take a massive area just for storage. Again, extra weight added to craft for additional spacecraft real estate. C.)Survivability. Most of the foods you listed will not keep at room temperature for 3 years. Tuna, perhaps, but jerky, bagels, etc. Won't make it even close to that. You can freeze it, but this will also require extra gear, energy and materials to accomplish.

      Now, if you were to introduce a renewable food source like the silk worm, most of those problems are reduced considerably. You leave orbit with only a seed population, and since their bodies, much like ours, are comprised mostly of water, it is not a straight equation of 1LB of worm food begets 1LB of worms. They eat leaves, which could theoretically also be grown using a minimum of resources, which only require light (free), water (recyclable) and soil (recyclable). Therefore you are netting a gain in food that is more than what you leave with from Earth.

      I'm sure they will probably pack some regular food too, but likely more as an appeasement to keep the astronauts sane. It will be spaced out sparingly over a long ride, and is essentially a luxury. I view it a lot like the food situation in Firefly, where most of their diet is comprised from nondescript protein bars. If you didn't see the behind the scenes of them making those protein bars, I think you'd be looking at a very similar set of circumstances. Once the worms have been harvested, they can be processed any number of ways, including being refined and compacted into their most efficient form (bars). Then you add in a box of strawberries every now and then just to keep from going all bibbledy.

  • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter@slashdot . ... t a r o> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:47PM (#26451943) Homepage Journal

    I guess Chris Moriarty's novel "Spin Control", where a good deal of the biomass for a long-term space mission was silkworms, was ahead of the curve.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.