Sustainable and Healthy Starship Nutrition from Algae
by Dr. Mark Edwards
tarship nutrition comes from the nutrients in algae and the microorganism community directly, or indirectly in fish, fowl, meat animals, or plants that absorb their nutrients from algae. Everything aboard the starship supplies nutrients when the products are recycled and reused as food, fibers, and medicines.
Crewmembers will follow Dr. Walter Willet’s Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, which includes meats, fruits, and vegetables. Crewmembers will enjoy a wider variety of foods than are available today. NASA has suggested some foods for the Mission to Mars. A set of algae food recipes is available at www.AlgaeCompetition.com.
Starship food production will not rely on genetically modified organisms because algae offer extraordinary natural biodiversity. Crewmembers or Ceres, the robotic gardener, can train, (adapt or hybridize) most algae species to overexpress sufficient levels of desired components for functional foods or medicines. Smart microfarms use naturally diverse algae biofertilizers to enhance the nutralence, or nutrient diversity and density, for all foods – algae, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meats.
Over 90% of food grains grown in the U.S. in 2011 are genetically modified organisms, (GMO) that optimize produce yield at the expense of roots. Shallow roots limit a plants’ reach for soil nutrients, causing hidden hunger and nutrient dilution. Some of the starship crew will come from regions of the world such as Europe and Africa that forbid using GMO crops for food.
Starship labs will use genetic engineering, (GE) for several applications. GE technology enables crewmembers to search for advanced compounds in algae stored in the algae safe as well as in animals, plants, and the soil. GE technologies enable scientists to understand the pathways algae uses for the expression of certain compounds. Once crewmembers identify the pathway, GE software can map algae species to crossbreed in order to gain natural hybrids that express the desired compound. GE technology also will enable the medical staff to create functional foods, medicines, and vaccines with algae compounds tailored to benefit DNA needs of each starship crewmember.
All food and medicine production could occur in water-based systems, but the starship will use aeroponics, hydroponics, aquaponics, and soil-based production systems. The soil crops will provide food, feed, and lush greenery in the form of environmental horticulture. Botanical gardens also provide rest and recreation as well as positive aesthetics to the starship.
The algae library provides the source for the advanced compounds required to create specialty functional foods and medicines. Algae offer extraordinary natural diversity, with 360,000 known species and an estimated 10 million total species. The starship will carry an algae library of 120,000 algae species, marine, freshwater, and terrestrial, in a container the size of a refrigerator that acts as a controlled environment seed safe. The automated system will catalogue each algae specimen for constituent compounds and freeze-dry it. Specimens, cut into small strips similar to litmus paper about 7mm by 70 mm, will last indefinitely. About nine strips of each species will be stored in a honeycomb structure with 9 mm diameter openings 12 cm deep with pivot panels similar moving library shelves.
The robotic algae species library operator will be named Jerry, in honor of the iconic algae librarian at the University of Texas, Austin, Professor Jerry Brand. The large number of species will provide the unusual advanced compounds necessary for specialty medicines, pharmaceuticals, and vaccines. The starship will have the capacity to discover and catalogue additional algae species and other microorganisms from on-board soil, water, and stomach samples as well as replace samples used for new cultures. When habitable locations are found during the starship exploration, the new microorganisms can be similarly catalogued and cultured.
Smart microfarms mimic nature as they grow a wide spectrum of microcrops integrating light and intelligent technologies. These cultivated algae production systems, (CAPS) transform solar energy, CO2 and recycled nutrients to products that support the health and vitality of people, animals, and plants.
Note: Please go to www.AlgaeCompetition.com to view microfarm examples.
Smart microfarms are extremely flexible biofactories that can produce cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals, fibers, medicines, plastics, adhesives, medicines, vaccines, and advanced compounds. While the microfarm grows food and coproducts, the process cleans and regenerates the starship life-support system. Growing system water and residual nutrients are recycled continuously. Food includes human foods, oils, and nutritionals, feed for animals, and biofertilizers that deliver superior nutrition to water or soil-based crops such as vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruit.
Smart microfarms leverage the natural process that produces 70% of the world’s oxygen, more than all the forests and fields combined. Algae synthesize roughly 0.8 x 1011 tons of organic matter daily, constituting about 40% of the total organic matter grown daily on our planet. Algae play an important role in the nutrient cycling of plants and enhance soil nutrients, humus, and structure. Some species are able to fix atmospheric N2, some dissolve P locked in the soil, while others form compounds beneficial to plant growth and development.
Microfarms may cultivate a wide spectrum of microorganisms such as algae, yeast, fungi, bacteria, archaea, protists, plankton, and others. The focus here is on algae, but a diversity of microflora yield benefits with attributes superior to modern industrial foods and medicines.
Algae harvest will use several technologies for biomass harvest. Algae harvest for medical species will use the low-energy Evodos three-phase centrifugal process that separates the culture into biomass, oil, and water fractions. The algae appears as a green paste that may be edible for humans or animals, depending on the species harvested, or ready for processing into medical products.
The algae biomass may be made into flour for the preparation of chips, pasta, breads, tortillas, cakes, cookies, or other food products. Nutraceuticals such as Omega-3 fatty acids may be removed and put into functional foods that enable consumers to eat extra nutritional supplements in their food. Algae can be made into texturized vegetable protein that imitates nearly any meat.
Land crops raised on the starship such as grains, vegetables, and fruits can be nourished with algae fertilizers to enhance size, taste, color, and texture. Algae nutrition for plants, meat, or other food animals increases the nutrient diversity and density, and nutritional quality.
The starship provides an excellent model for sustainable nutrition that will help all human societies. Algae offer a wide spectrum of food alternatives that improve taste and texture while enhancing health and nutrition. Algae-based foods will soon move from the starship to grocery shelves.