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SIU team is working on making food replication a reality

Space food.
courtesy NASA
The food system would replace the space food NASA is currently using.

A team at SIU is participating in a NASA challenge that would make it possible to print food on demand.

It may sound like science fiction, but Assistant Professor Lahiru Jayakody's team is hoping to turn food replication into science fact. His team is getting funding from NASA to pursue their design, which could be used to feed astronauts on future deep space voyages.

"What NASA wants in this particular application, they want to see a food process that uses less water, less energy, as well as producing less waste, I mean, a no-waste system, and also space. They have very limited space, and also we cannot bring a 100 tons of items in the spacecraft, right?" Jayakody explained.

The group's design will use one process to break materials like plastic down into carbon, which is fed to microbes that produce food ingredients. The food could then be printed on demand, with spices and flavorings added to make it taste good. Jayakody said the food would even be able to be customized for different nutritional needs and tastes -- and it would work quickly.

"Most importantly, the system needs only 1 day to produce this product. If you grow something on land, it takes months, right? So this is a very rapid food producing system," he said.

While NASA hopes to use the system for space travel Jayakody said the low-energy, low-water, low-waste system could also help address food insecurity here on Earth.

Jayakody's team will continue to work on their design for the next several years. He said they hope to have a prototype built by next summer.

Steph Whiteside is a Digital Media News Specialist with WSIU radio in Carbondale, Ill. She previously worked as a general reporter at AJ+ and Current TV.
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