Turning faeces into food

Thursday, 27 August, 2015

Space travel is not for the faint-hearted, or for the weak of stomach. Not only do astronauts drink their own recycled sweat and urine, but the next step may not be far away, with NASA recently awarding US$200,000 to a research project that will investigate turning human waste into food, nutraceuticals and other material.

With eyes firmly set on travel to Mars, self-sufficiency in space is an important goal for NASA. The recent announcement that astronauts aboard the International Space Station had eaten the first lettuce grown in space is slightly more palatable to the average Earth-dweller, but the ability to simultaneously reduce waste and create food and other materials has clear advantages for future travel into deep space.

The project, officially named ‘Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel’, is being conducted by Mark Blenner of Clemson University in South Carolina.

According to NASA’s website, the space agency has funded the research as part of its quest towards “providing the means to produce food, medical supplies and building materials on site at distant destinations using synthetic, biology-based approaches”.

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