The millennium's food will be grown in space

Spirulina, a type of algae, will become part of the MELISSA project, an initiative that looks to guarantee the production of food and oxygen outside of the Earth


The millennium's food will be grown in space


Spirulina, the food of the millennium, as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), besides being an alga with great nutritional potential that has been considered as one of the key foods in the fight against malnutrition on the planet, will now be cultivated at the International Space Station, ISS, by the European Space Agency, ESA.


Through a pilot project that has been named Artemiss, the Space Agency of Europe will try to cultivate these algae in the ISS so that through the process of photosynthesis, the algae produce the oxygen that is currently transported from the earth. In a natural environment, all plant structures with chlorophyll produce oxygen through photosynthesis, which consists of transforming sunlight into energy, for which they require exposure to the sun and CO2 or carbon dioxide, which in the case of International station, it is a residual product that could be exploited with a double purpose, but the pilot project will have to be tested in very different conditions from the usual ones. The Arthrospira or Spirulina algae will be confined in a photobioreactor, a container permanently bathed with sunlight and the amount of oxygen produced and the biomass produced to be consumed as a protein will be accurately measured over the course of a month.


Spirulina has been a recurrent food supplement in the lives of astronauts living in the station. However, this is the first time that it is intended to grow for the purpose of producing oxygen outside the Earth's atmosphere. These microalgae were already sent to the ISS on the dragon freighter and the performance and behavior will be measured as soon as it returns to the earth during the spring of 2018, as the conditions of solar radiation and weightlessness require a more detailed analysis of the behavior of the cells and its growth.


This and other projects that aim to guarantee the production of food and oxygen outside the Earth are part of the Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, or MELISSA.


The food of the future


Microalgae known as Spirulina are classified as one of the most beneficial foods for the human body, with high nutritional value and protein have been valued by the WHO as a food that could contribute to global projects that seek to stop child malnutrition.


Since 1974, the United Nations Organization in the World Food Conference declared Spirulina as "the best food for the future", apparently the future has already arrived, because in Bikoro, Republic of Congo, food is based on the consumption of cassava, a tuber that contains low levels of protein, which leads to malnutrition in the child population and the elderly. In this city, a pilot phase of the project is carried out in collaboration with MELISSA in which the reactions and efficiency in the crop are studied, which is confined to water containers mixed with potassium bicarbonate that are located under sunlight.


In small containers the water is constantly mixed with the microalga and the other components that after being harvested are dried to be reduced to powder, around 10 grams per day are enough to supplement the diet of a family of six members on average. Spirulina is not only a dietary supplement for the poorest communities on the planet; it has anticancer properties, antioxidants, it can help control hypertension, and it can also be used as a treatment against allergic rhinitis. It has been shown to be very effective to measure the reduction in secretions nasal, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching of 127 patients who were placed under observation.



Latin American Post | Alberto Castaño Camacho

Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda

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