Astronauts May One Day Be Able to Eat Their Own—Uh—Waste
"As long as the astronauts would like the taste of it, which is a question," says the researcher behind the project.
In the world of pop culture, adventurer Bear Grylls inspired an entire meme with the concept of drinking his own urine to survive in the wild. But the world of science may one day be able to do Grylls one better: Researchers believe they may have found a way for astronauts to eat nutrients derived from their own urine to survive in space.
To be fair, the process is far more complicated than simply baking pee in the oven. Instead, researchers from Clemson University have been looking at ways to use urine to feed a strain of yeast known as Yarrowia lipolytica. With a bit of genetic engineering, these yeasts, which are commonly found in cheese, can be put on a diet that includes recycled urine to produce nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for human survival. "Astronauts will need to be able to produce nutrients and materials they need during Earth-independent long-term space travel," lead researcher Mark Blenner said according to The Guardian. "[These yeasts] can make many of the vitamins and nutrients we often get from plant-based food, but grow at a much faster rate with less volume required."
If the science works as planned, Blenner believes this technique could also potentially benefit the Earth-bound as well. "In poorer countries, we think this might be an interesting way to reduce waste production," he told the site Seeker. He even suggests it could be used on remote military bases—as if the rations soldiers get now aren't bad enough.
Still, despite the promising nature of his research, Blenner admits that the resulting nutrient-packed yeast isn't necessarily perfect as is. "They're full of protein and amino acids and omega-3s," he said. "You could technically eat that, as long as the astronauts would like the taste of it, which is a question." Sounds like a very big question... though maybe if you give it a fancy name like "molecular gastronomy" or something, you can convince the world it's fine dining?