Some people claim that in the future, molecular engineering will enable us to “grow” unlimited quantities of food without soil, seed, farms or farmers - and that it will wipe out global hunger in the process. Consider the views outlined below.
What Are the Experts Saying About Molecular Food Manufacturing?
• “Nanomachines could create unlimited amounts of food by synthesis at the atomic level, which would eradicate hunger.” - Carmen I. Moraru et al., Professor of Food Science, Cornell University (USA), on nanotech’s potential impact on food science.
• “Molecular biosynthesis and robotic replenishment may allow quick replacement of production, so we wouldn’t have to depend on centralized systems to grow and deliver our food. In the first, primitive stages of molecular assembly, we’d build packaged greenhouses, radically different from those today, that would allow local or individualized production by millions who know nothing about farming…At the next stage of molecular manufacturing, food synthesis could occur directly, without growing crops or livestock.” - Douglas Mulhall, ‘Our Molecular Future’.
• “Why can’t human beings imitate nature’s methodology? Instead of harvesting grain and cattle for carbohydrates and protein, nanomachines (nanobots) could assemble the desired steak or flour from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms present in the air as water and carbon dioxide. Nanobots present in foods could circulate through the blood system, cleaning out fat deposits and killing pathogens.” - Dr. Marvin J. Rudolph, Director, DuPont Food Industry Solutions, in ‘Food Technology’, January 2004.
Using Molecular Manufacturing Techniques to Produce Food in the Future - the Debate Between the Pessimists and Optimists
Producing food by molecular manufacturing is the most ambitious goal of nanotech - and the least likely to materialize any time soon. To those who have followed the biotech debate over the past two decades, enthusiastic claims that a new technology will feed hungry people is a tired and empty refrain. Nano-optimists see the future through the biotech industry’s rose- (and green-) coloured glasses: now it’s nanotech, they claim, that will eradicate hunger by increasing agricultural yields, enhancing the nutritional content of food and eliminating the risk of food allergens.
The ETC Group’s Verdict on Molecular Food Manufacturing
ETC Group concludes that present-day “nanotech for tummies” is following the same trajectory as other nano-scale R&D, with the earliest applications in the area of “smart” materials and sensors. More revolutionary applications, such as the atomic modification of food, are perhaps more distant. But it’s worth noting that a few ambitious scientists are trying to create food in the lab.
Current Projects to Manufacture Molecular Food in the Laboratory
Tissue engineers at Touro College (New York City) and at the Medical University of South Carolina (USA) are experimenting with growing meat by “marinating” fish myoblast (muscle) cells in liquid nutrients to encourage the cells to divide and multiply on their own. The first goal is to keep astronauts in space from going hungry.