Virginia Tech Researchers Make Tree Bark Edible

Billions of people not yet born may grow up viewing tree bark and everyday leaves as edible — and healthy — sources of food, thanks to a recent breakthrough by researchers at Virginia Tech.

ScienceDaily reports that a team of researchers at one of Virginia’s largest research institutions have succeeded in transforming cellulose into starch. Cellulose is the material found in cell walls of plants, such as leaves, discard stalks, and tree bark. If you want the full details, the researchers published their findings in last week’s early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cellulose can also be found in algae, opening up the potential for underwater plants to be harvested to feed future humans. The world’s population is estimated to be 9 billion by 2050. The world’s current population is around 7 billion, up from roughly 5 billion in 1990.

The resulting starch, amylose, is a source of dietary fiber that has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. Researchers are able to turn 30 percent of the cellulose into amylose. The remaining 70 percent can be turned into glucose that can be used to produce ethanol. If turning corn into ethanol isn’t compelling, turning corn husk into ethanol could be a no-brainer.

The process itself is environmentally friendly, as Inhabit reports that it does not generate waste, nor does it require expensive equipment, heat, and toxic chemicals. The process can be used not just to produce edible food, but edible food packaging as well. The concept isn’t unheard of. Last year a Brazilian fast-food chain started wrapping their burgers in edible paper, saving customers the hassle of having to unwrap them first. Win? Win.

If your pecan tree isn’t providing you with enough sustenance, you may soon have options. Thanks to the fine folks such as the researchers at Virginia Tech, your bark may some day feed more than your fire place.

[Image via Virginia Tech]

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