NASA is funding research into 3D-printed food. Mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor received a $125,000 grant from the agency to build a prototype 3D printer with the aim of automating food creation. It’s hoped the system could provide astronauts food during long-distance space travel, but its creator has the loftier aim of solving the increasing food shortages around the world by cutting down on waste. The software for the printer will be open-source, while the hardware is based on the open-source RepRap Mendel 3D printer.
The concept is to use basic “building blocks” of food in replaceable powder cartridges. By combining each block, a wide range of foods should be able to be created by the printer. The cartridges will have a lifespan of 30 years, more than long enough to enable long-distance space travel. After proving his system works on a basic level by printing chocolate, Contractor will start his project within the next few weeks by attempting to print a pizza.
As Quartz reveals, the pizza printer will first print a layer of dough, which will be cooked while being printed, before mixing tomato powder with water and oil to print a tomato sauce. The topping for the pizza will be a nondescript “protein layer.” It’s early days for the project, but if it’s successful it would be a real milestone on the way towards a Star Trek-style Replicator.
The Thiel Foundation has made a six-figure grant to a series of biotechnology startups, including a company that wants to 3-D-print meat.
Modern Meadow is a Missouri-based startup that believes 3-D printing could help to take some of the environmental cost out of producing a hamburger. He said: “If you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck.”
The company claims that by carefully layering mixtures of cells of different types in a specific structure, in-vitro meat production becomes feasible. It’s set a short-term goal of printing a sliver of meat around two centimeters by one centimeter, and less than half a millimeter thick, which is edible.
The company explains in a submission to the United States Department of Agriculture: “The technology has several advantages in comparison to earlier attempts to engineer meat in vitro. The bio-ink particles can be reproducibly prepared with mixtures of cells of different type. Printing ensures consistent shape, while post-printing structure formation and maturation in the bioreactor facilitates conditioning.”
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Big news on the pharma front today: for the first time the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has approved a drug for humans that was produced in a genetically engineered plant cell. The approval could open the door to a range of biologic drugs that are generated in plant cells and then transferred to human patients.
The drug, called Elelyso, is a treatment for a disorder known as Gaucher disease that results from the lack of a specific enzyme. Engineers at Israeli biotech firm Protalix Biotherapeutics figured out how to grow this enzyme in carrot cells by inserting a specific gene into them that encodes for this human enzyme. In trials, subjects who received the “bio-pharmed” version of the enzyme showed improvement comparable to that of subjects given another treatment for Gaucher disease derived from hamster cells.
The ability to manipulate the genes of plant cells to produce certain human enzymes isn’t new, but up until now concerns about human biologics derived from plant cells have kept them from gaining traction with the FDA. But plant-derived biologic treatments have proven successful in drugs given to animals in recent years, and for the first time the FDA seems to have softened its skepticism toward bio-pharmed treatments.
For those suffering from Gaucher disease (it’s a lysosomal storage disorder, in case you were curious) that means another treatment option, and one not susceptible to pathogens that can affect mammalian cell stocks and lead to a shortage of usable drugs–shortages that have actually occurred in recent years. But the bigger impact is in the world of bio-pharming itself. Now that plant-derived human biologics have a foot in the door with the FDA, researchers think they can create enzymes to treat a variety of disorders using bio-pharming techniques.
Korean designer Jihyum Ryou reimagines food storage without a fridge.
In his project ‘Save Food From The Fridge’ Ryou uses traditional word-of-mouth knowledge and everyday objects to preserve food in an eco-friendly way, without the use of a fridge to keep the food fresh.
“Observing the food and therefore changing the notion of food preservation, we could find the answer to current situations such as the overuse of energy and food wastage.” Ryou wrote on his website.
“My design is a tool to implement that knowledge in a tangible way and slowly it changes the bigger picture of society. I believe that once people are given a tool that triggers their minds and requires a mental effort to use it, new traditions and new rituals can be introduced into our culture.”
Symbiosis of Potato+Apple
Ryou keeps apples and potatoes together, as apples emit ethylene gas. Ethyene gas speeds up the ripening process of fruits and vegetables kept together with apples. With apples, the potatoes are prevented from sprouting.
Verticality of Root Vegetables
Ryou also noted that keeping roots in a vertical position allowed the organisms to save energy and remain fresh for a longer time. He made a shelf that had sand, to helps them stand easily. The sand also helps to keep proper humidity.
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Architecture student André Ford has proposed a new system for the mass production of chickens that removes the birds’ cerebral cortex so that they don’t experience the horrors of being packed together tightly in vertical farms.
Each year, the United Kingdom raises and kills around 800 million broiler chickens for their meat. These creatures are grown in vast sheds with no natural light over the course of six to seven weeks. They are bred to grow particularly quickly and often die because their hearts and lungs cannot keep up with their body’s rapid growth.
Philosopher Paul Thompson from Purdue University has suggested “The Blind Chicken Solution.” He argues that chickens blinded by “accident” have been developed into a strain of laboratory chickens that don’t mind being crowded together as much as normal chickens do. As a result, he argues, we should consider using blind chickens in food production as a solution to the problem of overcrowding in the poultry industry. He argues that it would be more humane to have blind chickens than ones that can see.
But Ford goes a step further and proposes a “Headless Chicken Solution.” This would involve removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken to inhibit its sensory perceptions so that it could be produced in more densely packed conditions without the associated distress. The brain stem for the chicken would be kept intact so that the homeostatic functions continue to operate, allowing it to grow.
Ford proposes this solution for two reasons: To meet the rising demand for meat, particularly poultry, and to improve the welfare of the chickens by desensitizing them to the unpleasant reality of their existence.
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Chinese researchers have found small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the blood and organs of humans who eat rice. The Nanjing University-based team showed that this genetic material will bind to proteins in human liver cells and influence the uptake of cholesterol from the blood.
The type of RNA in question is called microRNA, due to its small size. MicroRNAs have been studied extensively since their discovery ten years ago, and have been linked to human diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. The Chinese research provides the first example of ingested plant microRNA surviving digestion and influencing human cell function.
Should the research survive scientific scrutiny, it could prove a game changer in many fields. It would mean that we’re eating not just vitamins, protein, and fuel, but information as well.
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