To yeast and beyond? Scientists explore 3D printing for astronaut nutrition and sustainable food systems
10 Nov 2022 --- Researchers from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, are looking into ways of creating a nutritious food system with three components: a 3D printer, yeast and science. Their vision, published in Nature Communications, focuses on nutrition for space travelers through the innovation of meals with the same texture, taste and nutrients as those produced on Earth.
By using modified yeast cells, scientists believe that 3D-food printing technology can be used to customize nutritious and environmentally sustainable meals for astronauts.
“The best approach for sustaining extended human space ventures is to produce food on-site,” says Dr. Briardo Llorente from the School of Natural Sciences at Macquarie University and lead author of the paper.
“As engineered food sources gain more popularity in the mainstream, there is a growing market for the increased use of engineered yeast in combating sustainability issues. These alternative foods could one day solve some of our most complex problems relating to sustainably addressing food security while removing pressure from natural ecosystems.”
Optimizing nutrition in space
The researchers outline that the most commonly used yeast in today’s space nutrition is the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae) – a food-grade microorganism used for wine-making, baking and brewing.
The interest and usage of yeast cells are present due to their nutrition-dense nature containing high levels of protein and carbohydrates, essential amino acids and a small amount of fat.
The vision claims that previous research has estimated that a 3000 L fermentation tank could provide all vitamins and macronutrients required to feed 50 to 100 people daily with a healthy and balanced diet. Making S. cerevisiae an “interesting candidate for space nutrition and a microbial food production system.”
“With some engineering, S. cerevisiae can be further bolstered to add nutrients, taste, color and texture,” the researchers note.
However, the paper points out significant limitations of the yeast acting as a food production system due to its high requirement for sugars as a carbon and energy source.
“Given that the biomass yield of yeast is ~0.5 g per gram of glucose and that glucose is itself a human food source, utilizing sugar-grown yeast would decrease the total calories available for human consumption,” it highlights.
A suggested solution is to develop food-production systems using yeasts together with autotrophic microorganisms – bacteria that synthesize their own food.
Contributing to circularity
This technology could have the potential to reduce or entirely eliminate food waste through customized meals and maximize food production off-Earth, making it a vital contributor to the circular economy, the researchers argue. They explain that the bioengineered yeast collection would be self-sufficient and ease pressure on the Earth’s natural ecosystems.
However, due to the limitations of food production in challenging environments on Earth, engineered yeast also has the potential to address and improve environmental sustainability on Earth, according to the researchers.
“Essentially, we propose developing technology and capabilities that will transform yeast from being the basic microbe we use to produce foods into something that is much more powerful that can be used as a complete food source,” says Llorente.
“With further research, we can use synthetic biology to consolidate multiple sensory and nutritional attributes and develop innovative food production systems that are sustainable and more environmentally friendly.”
The paper also highlights that interest in cultivated food as a solution for space nutrition has been present. Recently, the Dubai Future Foundation stressed lab-grown meat’s potential to improve health for both people and the planet as futurists urged to “grow meat not animals.”
However, microorganisms and 3D-food printing require less input and are quicker and more responsive to bioengineering interventions, which is advantageous for a new food-production system, according to the researchers.
NutritionInsight recently explored the challenges 3D printing faces for food and nutrition creation, such as the lack of printable ingredients holding the technology back from market entry.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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