It’s not quite protein pills or a “replicator” (a la Star Trek: TNG), but food technology is changing at an astonishing rate. Here are five budding food technologies on the verge of changing the way we eat:
A company in the Netherlands is developing a household spray—like Windex or Lysol—that could kill salmonella on contact. The spray contains bacteriophages: viruses that infect and kill bacteria. In fact, the FDA has recently approved an E. coli spray from an American company based on the same technology. Right now, the sprays are available to wholesale food producers, but the salmonella spray could be available to consumers within the next year.
Another Dutch scientist, Mark Post, is growing meat from cow stem-cells in a lab (we’ve written about his work before). But right now, growing a burger takes an inordinate amount of time and money—he estimates the finished burger will cost 250,000 Euros. But the technology is improving, and Post estimates that he could have a lab-grown meat product ready to market to grocery stores within 10 to 15 years—with sufficient funding. At his current funding levels, however, he tells Slate Magazine, “it’s never going to happen.”
Vertical farming is the modern darling of some sustainable food activists, but the idea harkens back to the Babylonians, whose hanging gardens were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The idea of vertical farming is that traditional, horizontal farming won’t be able to sustain the world’s growing population. In vertical farming, greenhouses are stacked on top of one another, growing food with hyrdroponics (and sometimes even LED lights instead of sunlight), and coexisting in urban environments with high-rise office buildings and apartments. So far, seven large-scale vertical farms exist around the world, but pioneers in the industry believe that eventually, big box retailers like Wal-Mart will be using the technology to grow their own products.
GMOs for Good?
Genetically modified foods are extremely controversial right now, when most GMO crops are engineered for pest resistance or to take advantage of chemical fertilizers. But several companies are trying to engineer foods that will be more nutritious for human beings. A subsidiary of DuPont is working on a heart-healthy soybean and Monsanto is developing an omega-3 enriched soybean. In addition, some researchers are working to produce a variety of cassava (a staple crop in Africa) that will provide more of the nutrients necessary in a balanced diet, to combat malnutrition in developing countries.
While nanoparticles aren’t new, researchers have been trying to engineer these ultra-tiny particles for use in foods. Some scientists believe they could be particularly useful in creating diet-friendly foods that taste great without any added calories, sugar or fat. But some researchers are concerned that there hasn’t been enough safety testing on the effects of nanoparticles in the human body—because the particles are so small, they don’t necessarily behave like regular food molecules, and could possibly go where no food particles have ever gone before, like the brain.
image by Lori Greig