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Medicine Space Science

Microbes May Help Astronauts Transform Human Waste Into Food (phys.org) 103

A Penn State researcher team has shown that it is possible to rapidly break down solid and liquid waste to grow food with a series of microbial reactors, while simultaneously minimizing pathogen growth. They reported their findings in the journal Life Sciences in Space Research. Phys.Org reports: To test their idea, the researchers used an artificial solid and liquid waste that's commonly used in waste management tests. They created an enclosed, cylindrical system, four feet long by four inches in diameter, in which select microbes came into contact with the waste. The microbes broke down waste using anaerobic digestion, a process similar to the way humans digest food. The team found that methane was readily produced during anaerobic digestion of human waste and could be used to grow a different microbe, Methylococcus capsulatus, which is used as animal feed today. The team concluded that such microbial growth could be used to produce a nutritious food for deep space flight. They reported in Life Sciences in Space Research that they grew M. capsulatus that was 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats, making it a potential source of nutrition for astronauts.

Because pathogens are also a concern with growing microbes in an enclosed, humid space, the team studied ways to grow microbes in either an alkaline environment or a high-heat environment. They raised the system's pH to 11 and were surprised to find a strain of the bacteria Halomonas desiderata that could thrive. The team found this bacteria to be 15 percent protein and 7 percent fats. At 158 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills most pathogens, they grew the edible Thermus aquaticus, which consisted of 61 percent protein and 16 percent fats.

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Microbes May Help Astronauts Transform Human Waste Into Food

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  • Looks like they've solved the 3rd world food problem. Just don't tell anyone what it's made from.
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      There's already more than enough food for everyone. It's why Paul Ehrlich's 1960s neo-Malthusian predictions of mass starvation in the 1970s never happened.

      • There's already more than enough food for everyone.

        It's more complicated than that. Depends on what people eat.

        Globally, yes, planet earth can produce more food than need to keep everyone fed ( for a certain definition of "fed" ).

        But if every body decide they want to have the same exact food diet as people in the developed world (think about USAmerican's love of steak. It's an entirely different approach to the word "fed" compared to above) : then you'll need at least 3 Earths worth of food production to keep everyone happy.

        It's why Paul Ehrlich's 1960s neo-Malthusian predictions of mass starvation in the 1970s never happened.

        No. That's more to do that those

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Meat replacement products are going to be huge in the near future. If you haven't tried something like an Impossible Burger you will be surprised just how much like real meat it actually is. And that's before we get to lab grown meat.

          People will want this stuff not primarily because they care about the environment, but because it's healthier and cheaper. Meat grown in a sterile environment will need less drugs during it's lifetime, and will be engineered to be high quality/taste without all the effort that

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          No. That's more to do that those predictions (which also serves as inspirations for movies such as Soylent Green) are based on what would happen if the then tendencies were kept as is

          Denying the truth will not set you free.

          Early editions of the book wrote, The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.

          The world's death rate has dropped by 23% since 1970.

          He and his wife also completely missed the agricultural Green Revolution which had been happening for 40 years by 1968.

          if everybody kept reproducing like rabbits, today's world might look a bit like the over-populated slum

          Ehrlich's solution? H

          • He and his wife also completely missed the agricultural Green Revolution which had been happening for 40 years by 1968.

            He may have completely missed it, but you're missing the fact that these Green Revolutions aren't going to happen over and over again every time the world needs more food.

            • by Nutria ( 679911 )

              And the world population is not forecasted to indefinitely grow, either. "10 billion" is the typical max, due to urbanization and the education of women.

              Thus... no need for eternal green revolutions (or the forced starvation of countries, which Ehrlich thought was a great idea).

    • IT'S PEOPLE!

    • >Looks like they've solved the 3rd world food problem. Just don't tell anyone what it's made from.

      We don't really have a 'food' problem, we have an energy problem... it's just that Nature's put a lot of unnecessary steps between us and the energy source.

      Let's say, in theory, you could wear one of these reactor kits on a belt with a tube coming out your rectum as its input, and a tube feeding your stomach as its output... you're still not a perpetual motion machine. It takes energy to convert bodily wast

  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @03:15AM (#56005691)

    They already make a substance that appears to be bioprocessed human waste. It's called Marmite.

    • Marmite is actually by-product of the brewing industry. Perhaps you've been over-indulging in their products /humour
    • In New Zealand, I actually developed a taste for this. One of our species' principal survival advantages is the amazing variety of things we can eat.

    • by MetricT ( 128876 )

      You misspelled "Velveeta".

  • Microbes + plants + animals + sun creates food for humans (and for themselves) from dirt.

    This is a set of well established processes we haven't fully understood. This is why we are trying to destroy them.
    So "just microbes" is less effective.

  • Eat-a-Tweet

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2018 @03:19AM (#56005701)

    ...but I hear it tastes like shit.

  • reminds me of Trantor in Asimov's Federation Series, where they grew microbes (yeast in the story) in huge vats to feed 40 billion people.

    • I recall reading that it took a huge fleet of ships bringing in produce to feed Trantor, and that a fleet of ships removed the human waste off-world. And a rumour that both fleets were one and the same...
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        You're right. One of the regions grew yeast, and -- in the decades since I read it -- must have forgotten one and magnified the other.

  • India (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sigvatr ( 1207234 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @03:47AM (#56005749)
    In other news, Indian street food prices tumble.
  • Quite normal. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @03:48AM (#56005753)

    Microbes May Help Astronauts Transform Human Waste Into Food

    since Astronauts Transform Food Into Human Waste Thanks To Microbes.

  • The research to turn shit into butter has already reached the 50% mark.

    It spreads already as it should, just the taste is still slightly off.

  • NASA recruitment slogan?
  • by upuv ( 1201447 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @07:59AM (#56006319) Journal

    If this tech is developed for Space travel or is an outcome of research into supporting us in space then it can most likely be ported into farming.

    Who says this tech has to be used to feed humans directly. Why can't use it to improve the efficiency of animal husbandry. We can use farm wastes to more directly loop back into the production cycle. We could use it to improve the production of meat, textiles, milk, medical supplies etc.

    Why not feed the outputs to say ants, and in return feed the ants to other stocks. Thus further diversifying the various protein chains making the process even more benificial.

    Or we do more engineering and create organic polymers from the protein. Thus a replacement for many of the plastics in use today.

    It does not have to directly feed us. As a matter of fact it can help reduce the costs associated with meat etc.

    The key to the process is that it is a bio reactor that minimises infections and contamination. Thus making it more robust as an industrial system.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      AD is already used on a number of farms in Europe, the issue being that the liquid byproduct is quite high in phosphorus and so needs additional treatment before discharge, which means more cost and infrastructure.

      >Or we do more engineering and create organic polymers from the protein

      The kind of biopolymers which bacteria produce are mostly just carbon based, not protein based. There's already a decent amount of work into this, e.g. AirCarbon [newlight.com] claim to turn methane into plastic.

      >The key to the process

  • by billybob2001 ( 234675 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @08:05AM (#56006329)

    This will obviously by marketed as Soylent Brown.

    (Spoiler: it's poople!)

  • at the Congressional cafeteria? After all, they keep making us eat all the shit that they pass...
  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @10:42AM (#56007019)

    ... playing "Oxygen Not Included". After giving my whole colony food poisoning by using contaminated water in the musher, the principle and what is important became quite clear.

  • I can see it now...

    NASA exec: "Why is no one answering our ad for Astronaut training?"

    NASA drone worker: "I think it's the food plan and people not wanting to eat their own shit"

  • So they are growing microbes to feed people.

    Better learn to take small bites. :)
  • ...a real shitty idea.

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