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SYFY WIRE microbes

DARPA’s project Cornucopia aims to use microbes to make food out of thin air

DARPA is looking to develop a mobile food supply that only requires water, air, and electricity. 

By Vanessa Armstrong
Soldier eating

Food production is an energy-intensive endeavor, and one that historically has required a lot of space to do at scale. DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, wants to change that, and believes that microbes are the way to more efficiently provide large quantities of food for the U.S. military’s deployments, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR).

The project, called Cornucopia, is in the early stages of developing a portable technology that will be able to create food anywhere in the world, as long as there is enough power and water to do so. 

"Cornucopia seeks to produce from air, water and electricity with minimal supplementation a range of microbial-origin, nutritious foodstuffs that taste good and offer complete nutrition for military applications ranging from troops in austere locations to civilians and troops during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” Molly Jahn, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said in a statement. “The vision is to enable food production during military missions that meets unit needs and preferences as well as those of local populations when conducting HADR operations.”

The envisioned Cornucopia system, according to DARPA’s official statement, would “convert electricity, air, and water into simple molecules that can be used as sources of energy to turn the carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen from air and water into more microbes that produce food molecules – including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber – in the form of safe, palatable foodstuffs with various flavors and textures.”

In other words, the system would only need electricity, air, and water to make large amounts of edible microbes.

All of this begs the question — will these palatable microbes be delicious? We'll have to wait a while to get an answer to this delectable query, as DARPA is currently seeking input from companies and other research institutions to get Cornucopia off the ground.

In the meantime, enjoy the trillions of microbes you're already ingesting every day. Just delicious. 

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