Living on air is the next revolution that food technology reserves for humanity. At least that is what ensures Air protein, a startup Californian who has echoed in the Anglo-Saxon media announcing that she has managed to manufacture a new type of fleshl. It is not made of animal cells cultivated in vitro It is not basic vegetable: they have made it appear, they say in their statement, of the same air that we breathe ".
This statement, which could be unlikely even for a science fiction story and enter fully into the world of fantasy, has behind an incipient technology they call microbial fermentation. It is not another thing, assure its promoters, that to apply the processes "probiotics"that man has used for millennia like bacteria to get yogurt waves yeasts for the beer to the new generation food.
But in both cases a previous ingredient is required: milk in one case, cereal in the other. Even the 'food synthesizers' that at the moment make dishes to the taste of the ship's crew Enterprise in the series Star trek they work with nutrients As raw material. The formula proposed by Air Protein, however, starts from decomposing the air elements, specifically the carbon dioxide, through microorganisms that transform it into amino acids "similar to those of animal protein".
Through a solution of Water and minerals, you get a protein powder. And from this tasteless "flour" you can add the shape, taste and color of meat (or even "fish") to replace, which at the moment, would seem to be the chicken According to the promotional images. The advantages, they say, are multiple: the process takes "days"instead of" months "as with laboratory meat, I would spend fewer resources that livestock, and would offer an "elegant solution" to the challenges of feed the planet against demographic and environmental pressure.
Are we facing a valid nutritional alternative or the nth Cancamusa of Silicon Valley? The truth is that the basis of technology comes from a more true space adventure than Star Trek. For decades, NASA has been obsessed with the problem of "close the cycle"(" closing the loop ") of the physiological processes of astronauts for long distance space travel. It's not just about growing food on board, but about recycle and transform everything the body produces to form a self-sufficient system.
That would include the CO2 that astronauts produce when they breathe, and NASA identified some candidates for the job: hydrogenotrophic, the "super-recyclers of nature's goat" in the words of Lisa Dyson, the firm's scientific advisor. With the help of hydrogen of water in a bioreactor, these microorganisms synthesize the carbon dioxide and produce amino acids. "And the aerial protein contains Vitamin B, which is good news for vegans, since it is usually lacking in their diet, "Dyson said Magazine Forbes.
What they don't count
The Air Protein ad has been received with skepticism by experts in the US as it does not disclose two important data. First, how much water It is spent in the process: manufacturing an artificial "steak" could very well be as expensive in water resources as doing it traditionally. And speaking of costs, they do not specify whether the technique is today economically sustainable since they are not satisfied with the production of food supplements or fortified foods, but want to compete in the lucrative business of artificial meats.
And here is another crux of the matter: an artificial meat is not simply a paste to which color and flavor are added. The meat in vitro, even if you use the same muscle cells of an animal, you still have the challenge of reproducing the fiber texture. And vegetable meat has had to look for alternatives to hemoglobin -as the soy leghemoglobin– and fat to reproduce a satisfactory experience for the consumer's palate. Finally, an "hamburger" of Air Protein would be a ultraprocessed food by all the additives necessary to make it edible.