Preprint Concept Paper Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

An Electro–Microbial Process to Uncouple Food Production from Photosynthesis for Application in Space Exploration

Version 1 : Received: 26 April 2022 / Approved: 28 April 2022 / Online: 28 April 2022 (04:01:48 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Bell, P.J.L.; Paras, F.E.; Mandarakas, S.; Arcenal, P.; Robinson-Cast, S.; Grobler, A.S.; Attfield, P.V. An Electro–Microbial Process to Uncouple Food Production from Photosynthesis for Application in Space Exploration. Life 2022, 12, 1002. Bell, P.J.L.; Paras, F.E.; Mandarakas, S.; Arcenal, P.; Robinson-Cast, S.; Grobler, A.S.; Attfield, P.V. An Electro–Microbial Process to Uncouple Food Production from Photosynthesis for Application in Space Exploration. Life 2022, 12, 1002.

Journal reference: Life 2022, 12, 1002
DOI: 10.3390/life12071002

Abstract

Here we propose the concept of an electro–microbial route to uncouple food production from photosynthesis, thereby enabling production of nutritious food in space without the need to grow plant-based crops. In the proposed process, carbon dioxide is fixed into ethanol using either chemical catalysis or microbial carbon fixation, and the ethanol created is used as a carbon source for yeast to synthesize food for human or animal consumption. The process depends upon technologies that can utilize electrical energy to fix carbon into ethanol and uses an optimized strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to produce high quality, food grade single cell protein using only ethanol, urea, phosphate, and inorganic salts as inputs. Unlike crops using photosynthesis that require months to mature and are challenging to grow under the conditions found in space, the electro–microbial process could generate significant quantities of food on demand with potentially high yields and productivities. In this paper we explore the potential of the proposed process to provide food on demand in space, but it should be noted that this novel approach to food production has many valuable terrestrial applications too. For example, enabling food production in climatically challenged environments including turning deserts into food bowls, or utilizing surplus electricity generated from large-scale renewable power sources.

Keywords

space exploration; life support systems; Saccharomyces yeasts; bioregenerative food production

Subject

LIFE SCIENCES, Biotechnology

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