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« Looking Ahead | Main | Cycle of Fear »

January 28, 2005


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jim moore

I think that if you combine ink jet technology with cell culture, genetic engineering, micro sensors and micro fluidics you can get a system for the synthesis of a (potentially) wide range of food. A food fabricator may be easier to build than a nanofactory, but might look a lot like a nanofactory. You use a planer assembly design, instead of robot arm placing nanoblocks you have the ink jet heads shooting out cells and some water. Instead of nanoblock fabricators you have genetically engineered cells taking in simple raw materials and reproducing themselves. You use micro fluidic systems to move the different cells to different jetting stations. There are a number of different types of cells for taste, texture and nutrients.

This type of food fabricator technology might be able to evolve into a more general bio-nano-tech based programable assembler. Or in other words a Soft Wet Nano-Factory. I think that the design space for products that can be built from a soft wet nano-factory is very different from a diamond / graphite nano-factory and would have some different risks and benefits. A soft wet nano-factory may happen sooner because it builds on areas that are being more actively researched by more people.

jim moore

On another note I saw a great little video (~35MB) on robot insects.


Brett Bellmore

With a bit of genetic engineering, you might create a specialized cell for food synthysis, designed to be artificially grown with high efficiency, stored with good shelf life, and combine high nutritional value with a series of conditionally executing genes for various flavoring agents and textures.

Then you could simply store a suspension of generic foodstuff cells, and run them through a programing system on the way to the printer. They'd execute the intended selection of genes once printed, and become the desired food, after a certain incubation period.

Michael Vassar

Cell culturing is generally expensive. This could certainly be made prior to a nanofactory, but would not be able to build copies of itself. Without nanofactories to build it it would be somewhat useful for science, but definitely useless for food production.

jim moore

"Cell culturing is generally expensive"
Two comments. first it its not innately expensive with the proper integrated sensors to monitor things like temperature, pH, sugar levels, salt concentrations etc. and mechanisms to adjust the important variables automatically. There is no reason to think culturing cells has to be expensive. Second, I think the difficulty depends on the cells you are culturing. ( I have difficulty keeping some things from growing in my refrigerator ;-)

" but would not be able to build copies of itself."
Yes, only the food cells would reproduce themselves, the rest of the device would have to be manufactured.

"but definitely useless for food production."
I am not so sure about that, at first it would definitely be a first world product. I could see it being marketed as cruelty free, BSE free, highly nutritional source of "meat". It may be more ecologically efficient than eating corn fed cows. If you could make a food fabricator more ecologically efficient than eating meat it would have a huge impact.

Brett Bellmore

Yes, but most of the trouble with tissue culturing, is that you're trying to grow, isolated, cells that really "want" to be part of a larger system. Like trying to keep a society consisting entirely of shoe salesmen going. It's not difficult at all to culture cells that aren't normally part of a larger organism. Yeast, say. A food synthesizer of this sort would probably use highly modified cells, designed to be easy to culture. They might even be photosynthetic, and form part of the energy collection mechanism.

Michael Vassar

So then, what is needed is a good enough understanding of natural biological organisms that their genomes can be engineered to produce the food properties of multi-cellular organisms without the multiple cells. Like trying to produce a self-sufficient society where when asked everyone claims to be a shoe salesman. Easier, but hardly easy. I don't see it as realistically easier than diamondoid. Even if it was, there are issues with marketing, FDA approval, fighting entrenched industries, etc. Even if that was done, the effect simply wouldn't be revolutionary in the sense that diamondoid MNT will be. Modern food-science had a big impact on the world, but not like electricity did.

Brett Bellmore

Oh, I agree, it wouldn't be particularly revolutionary, just another product after the revolution has come and gone. Probably it would be an offshoot of closed life support systems for space, and catch on on Earth only because it made designer foods so easy.

jim moore

If you could make a food fabricator that would replace the meat in peoples diet it would have a huge ecological impact. You change the trophic level at which people get a significant amount of their protein. Finding attractive ways for people to feed at a lower trophic is vital if you want to preserve natural ecosystems and have a high standard of living for the ~ 10 billion people we are going to have on the earth.

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