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Scientists Make Food Using Electricity Seemingly Out Of Thin Air

A Finnish tech startup has managed to produce food mainly out of electricity and air, and is now looking to enter the market by 2021.

Researchers based in Finland created food using electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and microbes. The synthetic food was cooked up as part of a larger project, called Food From Electricity. The project is a collaboration between Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Solar Foods is also working with the European Space Agency to supply astronauts on a mission to Mars after devising a method it says creates a protein-heavy product that looks and tastes like wheat flour at a cost of €5 (£4.50) per kilo.

The powder known as Solein can be given texture through 3D printing, or added to dishes and food products as an ingredient.

Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, Principal Scientist at VTT, says, “In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine. One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”

Solar Foods hopes this will someday serve as a carbon neutral vegan alternative to meat and soy, both of which are land- and resource-intensive to produce. Vannika says Solein is “completely” disconnected from agriculture: The soil microbes used only require collection from natural land once. From there they are grown in the lab, and the inorganic nutrients they use are obtained from mineral deposits that don’t require the use of fertile land.

“It is a completely new kind of food, a new kind of protein, different to all the food on the market today in how it is produced as it does not need agriculture or aquaculture,” he said.

While Pitkänen predicts that the technology will take 10 years to scale up the technology, the implications for this project are huge.

Starving humans who lack access to food due to their geographical location can create nutritious powder for themselves whenever they need it. 

In terms of cost, Vainikka is looking at pricing the powder from 7 to 10 euros ($8-$11) per kilo, which he hopes will be competitive with other plant- and animal-based proteins already on the market.

Solar Foods’ currently low production yield raises red flags for food expert Peter Tyedmers, a professor in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. He sees the project as impossible to scale to a level that will compete with our current agricultural system, and its prices still too high to address global food insecurity.

“These products are never going to meet demands of the most impoverished,” Tyedmers said over the phone. “The people who need food are the ones who can least afford food, and this will never be the least expensive food.”

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Scientists Show Some Fruits And Nuts Can Reverse The Ageing Process

There’s plenty of interest in life extension technologies in Silicon Valley right now. (And, let’s face it, probably the rest of the world, too!) While researchers have yet to find a true fountain of eternal youth, however, scientists at EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics appear to have gotten one step closer with the discovery of a metabolite of biomolecules which could help slow the aging process.

Researchers have found that a compound created in the stomach after eating certain types of fruit and nuts has an anti-aging effect on humans. Called urolithin A, this compound is produced in the human gut from biomolecules called ellagitannins, which are found in pomegranates and other fruits and some nuts. There’s a catch, however: not everyone naturally produces the compound during digestion.

The claim that healthy eating is the key to longer life might seem too convenient—but it is now further backed by scientific evidence. Pomegranate, a fruit prized by many civilizations for its health benefits, contains ellagitannins. When ingested, these molecules are converted into a compound called urolithin A (UA) in the human gut. The researchers found that UA can slow down the mitochondrial aging process. The catch is that not everyone produces UA naturally.

UA is the only known compound that re-establishes cells’ ability to recycle defective mitochondria. In young people, this process happens naturally. But as we age, our body starts to lose its power to clean up dysfunctional mitochondria, causing sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle mass) and the weakening of other tissues. The team focused on slowing, or even reversing, this natural effect of aging.

The paper, published today, also confirms that the compound is safe to eat. Amazentis, based at EPFL’s Innovation Park, hopes to harness the promising results to quickly bring the product to market. “These latest findings, which build on previous preclinical trials, really crystallize how UA could be a game-changer for human health,” says Johan Auwerx, a professor at LISP, the EPFL lab involved in the trial. An article published in 2016 showed that the lifespan of nematode worms exposed to UA increased by 45 percent—from around 20 to 30 days—when compared with the control group. Likewise, older mice showed 40 percent better endurance while running after two weeks of treatment. The compound may thus have even more secrets to reveal about its benefits for human health.

Until then, we guess we’ll just have to settle for the promise of robots looking after us when we get old.

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A Study on Twins Proves That We All Need Different Diets

According to groundbreaking new research, the nutrients on our plates have very little influence on our responses to food, and our genes only determine about 50 percent of our reactions.

The research, presented at the American Society of Nutrition conference on Monday, has found that even twins can’t reliably expect the same results from following similar diet plans, Time magazine reported. The study, which hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, analyzed 1,100 people from the U.S. and U.K., including 240 sets of twins, to see how different foods and eating habits affected them.

“Our recommendations, medically and public-health wise, have just been assuming that if people follow the standard plan, they’ll lose weight” and develop fewer chronic diseases, says study co-investigator Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London. “Really, that thinking has now been exposed as completely flawed.”

The study, the latest in a near 30-year endeavor by Kings College London epidemiologist Tim Spector, is one of the strongest endorsements to date that personalized diets are key if we want to truly control a person’s risks of obesity and other diet-related diseases.

“It doesn’t mean you throw [all nutrition advice] out,” Spector says. “There are some guidelines and recommendations around the world that near-everybody agrees on,” including eating plenty of produce and fiber, and cutting back on calories and ultra-processed foods.

Rather than genetics, Spector says the secret to personalized dieting may rely on the microbiome, or the colony of microbes living in your gut. There’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about the microbiome, but buzzy studies suggest it affects many aspects of human health.

This is hardly the first suggestion that our gut bacteria is influenced by a myriad of things, and those things all influence our health dramatically. 

The American Gut Project, a parallel to Spector’s work, published data in 2016 showing 800 people on popular diets had hugely varied responses to the same food.

And a study in Israel made headlines in 2015 finding that some people are better off with rice and ice cream rather than a salad, and vice versa.

Dr Rob Knight, co-founder of the American Gut Project, said his team is working on many ‘science fiction’ ideas to revolutionize how we understand our personal gut health: 

  • A ‘smart toilet’ that examines your fecal matter and offers a live report of ‘how you’re doing’
  • A ‘smart mirror’ that gives an analysis of your breath when you breathe on it, much like the cystic fibrosis breath tests available
  • An app synced with your smart toilet that could scan grocery items while you’re shopping, and can tell you what you should buy to eat

Unfortunately, we’re not yet at a point where we can give concrete advice to everyone on what diet plan will suit them best. Until we better understand what affects each person’s nutrition and health, the diet you choose will most likely be trial and error. But if nothing else, this study proves you don’t have to follow every trendy new diet to be healthy.