Sign up FAST! Login

Team creates potential food source from non-food plants

Stashed in: Science!, Awesome, Plants!, Poverty, World Hunger, Virginia

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Let them eat wood.  If this works well, it could be revolutionary.

Sounds like it has a lot of promise, Steve:

Cellulose is the supporting material in plant cell walls and is the most common carbohydrate on earth. This new development opens the door to the potential that food could be created from any plant, reducing the need for crops to be grown on valuable land that requires fertilizers, pesticides, and large amounts of water. The type of starch that Zhang’s team produced is amylose, a linear resistant starch that is not broken down in the digestion process and acts as a good source of dietary fiber. It has been proven to decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes.

This discovery holds promise on many fronts beyond food systems.

“Besides serving as a food source, the starch can be used in the manufacture of edible, clear films for biodegradable food packaging,” Zhang said. “It can even serve as a high-density hydrogen storage carrier that could solve problems related to hydrogen storage and distribution.”

Zhang used a novel process involving cascading enzymes to transform cellulose into amylose starch.

Clearly there's more work to be done, but every time I see more R&D like this I begin to believe that world hunger will one day be a thing of the past.

Fantastic. I'll get on this cookbook right away... 

Feed the world and the world will be a better place.

I also love that the researchers are at Virginia Tech.

A lot of great things happen in Virginia.

How is this different from the wood cellulose we _already_ put in food today?

For one thing, the process is environmentally friendly and easy to scale:

This bioprocess called “simultaneous enzymatic biotransformation and microbial fermentation” is easy to scale up for commercial production. It is environmentally friendly because it does not require expensive equipment, heat, or chemical reagents, and does not generate any waste. The key enzymes immobilized on the magnetic nanoparticles can easily be recycled using a magnetic force.

For another thing, the by-product isn't just glucose, it's also 30% amylose:

The new approach takes cellulose from non-food plant material, such as corn stover, converts about 30% to amylose, and hydrolyzes the remainder to glucose suitable for ethanol production. Corn stover consists of the stem, leaves, and husk of the corn plant remaining after ears of corn are harvested. However, the process works with cellulose from any plant.

Cellulose isn't digestible by humans, even with gut bacteria.  To make it digestible means we'd be able to eat, indirectly, many fast-growing plants.  Or at least use them for fuel more effectively.

So using a process like this, a village could cut down some trees to generate something edible?

That's how I interpret it so far.  Or better, plant bamboo or other super fast growing plants and get very good sq ft of plants to human food ratios.

Maybe the pandas were onto something with their love of bamboo in the first place...

Zhang estimates that, given the current price tag of the enzymes that his team used, it would cost about $1 million to turn 200 kilograms of crude cellulose into 20 kilograms of starch, about enough to feed one person's carbohydrate needs for 80 days. Still, after 5 to 10 years of further research, Zhang says companies could do the same thing for just $0.50 per person per day. "We do not see big obstacles to the commercialization of this process."


You May Also Like: