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We might sometimes talk about eating crap on a night in, but that’s nothing compared to the more literal crap future astronauts could well find themselves chowing down on. That’s thanks to researchers at Penn State University, who have been using a research grant from NASA to develop technology for breaking down solid and liquid waste, and transforming it into food that’s hygienic and safe for humans — albeit something you probably won’t be serving at a dinner party anytime soon. The resulting foodstuff is high in both protein and fat, and apparently not dissimilar to savory British sandwich spread, Marmite.
“In our reactor, this plastic media provided a surface for the bacteria to attach so the waste material could flow through the reactor and past these microbial biofilms, where the attached microbes would remove organic matter and other nutrients,” Steinberg told Digital Trends. “A special group of bacteria in the reactor, named methanogens, produce methane which we used to grow methylococcus capsulatus, a methane-consuming microbe. Using the gas from the anaerobic reactor allowed us to prevent the transfer of potential pathogens or other unwanted microbes into the reactor growing M. capsulatus.”
Sadly, the project is currently concluded and Steinberg says “there is nothing else planned,” although she noted that it could be picked up by another research team wanting to continue the work.