Astronauts Could Soon Be Eating Food Made From Human ‘Poop’
Scientists from Penn State have been working on a way to turn human waste into a food source for astronauts who are deployed on deep-space missions. So far, their experiments have shown that it’s feasible to treat the waste with microbial reactors so that it can be transformed into something suitable for human consumption, Phys.org reported.
“It’s a little strange, but the concept would be a little bit like Marmite or Vegemite where you’re eating a smear of ‘microbial goo,'” said Christopher House, a professor of geosciences at Penn State. Marmite and vegemite are pastes that are made from concentrated yeast extract.
As Phys.org noted, ensuring that astronauts are fed during deep-space missions to Mars and elsewhere can be a big hurdle. Transporting food is expensive as it adds volume to the spacecraft which can dramatically increase fuel costs. Growing food, using hydroponic techniques or otherwise, use up space, water, and energy which is also a drain on financial resources. So, finding a means of producing food in space that’s cost-effective is necessary.
To conduct their research, the team used artificial solid waste that’s often used in waste treatment experiments. They built a cylindrical system and introduced microbes in an approximation of how the human digestive system functions. The microbes broke down the waste using a process known as anaerobic digestion.
Food is a little different in space — here's how one astronaut gained weight during his expedition pic.twitter.com/dKypaq8EF2
— Insider Tech (@TechInsider) January 17, 2018
Anaerobic digestion is an effective means of breaking down human waste that’s used in waste treatment and recycling operations on Earth. However, the team at Penn State is innovating on the process. They’re extracting the nutrients and put them into a microbial reactor so that they can be turned into food. The waste is essentially turned to food for bacteria and then the bacteria create the food. It’s fertilizer, in other words.
According to Phys.org, the team discovered that the methane that’s produced as a result of anaerobic digestion can be used to create a microbe in animal feed called Methylococcus capsulatus. They view this as a positive development which indicates that there’s a possibility that nutritious food can be made using this process. The Methylococcus capsulatus contained 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats, which means that it could be suitable for humans.
While the thought of eating food that’s only a couple of steps removed from poop is unpleasant, the new research could provide a solution to the problem of feeding astronauts on missions that take months and even years. According to NASA, the current food system involves all of the food being pre-cooked on Earth and freeze-dried. All of the meals are packaged individually so that they do not require refrigeration and can be prepared with the addition of water or heat.
— CNET (@CNET) January 27, 2018