Poo, it’s what’s for dinner — in space.
Researchers have developed a way to turn human solid waste into a potential edible “goo” for astronauts on missions to Mars and beyond, according to a new study.
The system, developed by Pennsylvania State University scientists, uses microbes that convert No. 2 into a protein- and fat-rich food.
Scientists liken the gross-sounding, but life-sustaining food substance to yeast-based food spreads.
“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,’” Christopher House, a microbe researcher, said in a Penn State statement.
Recycling waste into food is a more fuel-, space- and energy- efficient solution than growing food or carrying it on a spaceship during missions that could last months or years.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station now recycle a portion of water from urine, the Penn State release notes. Solid waste is currently ejected into space where it burns up.
The Penn State research, published in the journal Life Science in Space Research, utilizes anaerobic digestion, a process in which materials break down in the absence of oxygen.
“Anaerobic digestion is something we use frequently on Earth for treating waste,” House said. “What was novel about our work was taking the nutrients out of that stream and intentionally putting them into a microbial reactor to grow food.”
Researchers found that methane was readily produced during anaerobic digestion of human waste and could be used to grow a different microbe, Methylococcus capsulatus, which is used as animal feed today.
The team concluded that such microbial growth could be used to produce a nutritious food for deep space flight that was 52% protein and 36% fats.
While the study offers a promising advance, researchers said their system “is not ready for application yet — this initial study explored the various components in isolation and not (in) a fully integrated system.”
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