More than half a century ago NASA worked out the microbial recipe for sustaining on long space missions to Mars and beyond. It remained forgotten for 50+ years. Those very same microbes can feed the hundreds of millions of hungry people down here on Earth. This is becoming a reality with the Air-based Meat from Air Protein, a startup producing meat, and seafood in the most sustainable way possible.
The take-off of the idea behind Air-based Meat
The microbes NASA worked within the 1960s weren’t just any microbes, however. They were bacteria that can harvest energy from little more than the mere constituents of air, waste CO2, and water to make plentiful amounts of nutritious protein. Unlike plants, these microbes don’t even need to use light. Instead, the bacteria, known as hydrogenotrophic, use hydrogen as a fuel to make food from CO2 — just like plants use the energy of sunlight in photosynthesis.
Yet, as Scot Bryson, CEO of Orbital Farm, explains, “This technology was developed over 50 years ago for space and was never used for the earth. This meant all that knowledge ended up getting lost in time.” Orbital Farm is a circular project development company that integrates biotech, energy, and aquaponics.
Now, a suite of synthetic biology companies is picking up where NASA left off, developing a whole new generation of sustainable food products, and leading us towards a truly carbon-neutral economy; for the good of space travelers, and the benefit of everyone down here on Earth.
Preparation Of Air-based Meat
Fundamentally, the process of making air-based meat is similar to making yogurt. It begins with a starter culture in a fermentation vessel. Air Protein combines elements from the air, such as CO2, O2, N2, along with water and mineral nutrients. Using renewable energy and the company’s proprietary process, protein is produced. The final product is a protein that is rich in all essential amino acids.
The air-based protein is also given the texture and flavor of different types of meat—chicken, pork, or beef. For this, Air Protein uses a combination of pressure, temperature, and culinary techniques. And it happens rather quickly. On the contrary, it takes months to take crops from seed to harvest to table, and livestock can take years before their meat is ready for consumption. But Air Protein’s process makes the protein in just a few days.
Air Protein’s technology has the potential to make analogs of most types of meat. By harnessing renewable energy and a streamlined supply chain, Dyson says the process has the potential to be cheaper and faster than other alternatives. It is both scalable and economical. “It is, we believe, the most resource-efficient way to make protein,” she says.
Space science to save Earth
The ability to make amino acid-rich proteins in a small space and in a short amount of time could be transformative for the world’s food supply. For instance, an Air Protein farm the size of Walt Disney World can produce the same amount of protein as a traditional protein farm the size of the state of Texas. This independence from arable land also means that food can be made with minimal resources. Other factors like day or night, rain or shine, and in any climate or the geography won’t remain significant. “This flexibility can make for a more resilient and secure food supply,” she adds.
There is plenty of opportunities, especially in a world that is crying out for sustainable, renewable alternatives to our current forms of food production. Our seas are overwhelmed by overfishing and mismanagement of the aquacultures. The fields yearn respite as soils erode through overuse and mistreatment. Our forests are being slashed and burned, leaving biodiversity on the precipice and one slip away from the sixth mass extinction.
“We’re all about feeding the future. The mission is for spaceship Earth. How do we build a system to feed ten billion people more sustainably?” Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, asks the question on the minds of many. Her company is making sustainable meat from the air. She further adds that the disruption rate of the animal-based sources of protein is quite alarming.
The carbon-negative approach
Solar Foods, much like NovoNutrients, is also making food from thin air. Their goal is not to be carbon neutral, but to be carbon negative.
In an idealistic world, let’s say you wanted to consume all food. Like this, you could convert agricultural land to forest, let the trees grow back. When you do that, that land becomes a carbon sink. On a systems level, you have the potential for carbon negativity. We can produce food, or even plastic polymers, or pharmaceuticals. This range of products can utilize synthetic biology and an expression model, a source of energy, a source of CO2, and a big database to drive all of this.
The future is delicious and nutritious
If you were perhaps worried about the future of delicious food in such a new economy, worry not. This new circular economy has it all, from fresh vegetables to fish and even to air-based meat. Hence, Air Proteins are going even further.
“We’re the only company making air-based meat, in particular,” Dyson explains. “Taking CO2 from the air, we make a protein. We, the, apply culinary techniques that give customers what they want from an experiential perspective but that is also more sustainable. We can make air-based beef, chicken, seafood, pork. The platform is flexible.” She further added that the functional properties of the air-based meat can be optimized to replicate those of animal-based meat.
Air Protein has developed a method of making meat analogs out of carbon dioxide. Based on NASA’s ideas about how to grow food onboard long journey spacecraft, Air Protein says its technology can create protein in a matter of hours and without the use of any arable land.
Forgotten for half a century, a microbial recipe for sustaining astronauts on long space missions might feed hundreds of millions of hungry people on Earth. It also holds the key to a truly carbon-neutral, circular economy.
Read more about the Air-based Meat prepared using NASA’s technology
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Currently Pursuing B-tech from National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management, Haryana under Ministry of Food Processing Industries,Govt. of India