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NASA investigates 3D food printing
What will future astronauts eat during their multi-year mission to Mars? That’s a big challenge since there are no supermarkets or farm stands along the way and probably no room for a kitchen or pantry on the spaceship. To find a solution to this problem, U.S. space agency NASA has awarded a $125,000
contract to Systems and Materials Research Consultancy (SMRC), Austin, Texas, to study the feasibility of using additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, for making food in space.
Long-duration space missions need foods with a minimum five-year shelf life that meet safety, acceptability, variety, and nutritional stability requirements. The six-month study will look at how the technology can deliver nutrient stability and provide a variety of foods from shelfstable ingredients, while minimizing crew time and waste.
The SMRC proposal involves the design, build, and testing of a nutritional system using progressive 3D printing and inkjet technologies. The 3D printing component will be designed to deliver macronutrients (i.e., starch, protein, and fat), structure, and texture while the inkjet will supply micronutrients, flavor, and aroma. To assist in producing safe, nutritious, and palatable foods, SMRC will team up with the food science program at North Carolina State University and International Flavors and Fragrances.
The macronutrient feed stocks will be stored in dry sterile containers and fed directly to the printer. At the print head, these stocks will be combined with water or oil per a digital recipe to minimize waste and spoilage. Flavors and texture modifiers will also be added at this stage. This mixture will then be blended and extruded into the desired shape. The micronutrients and flavors will be stored in sterile packs as liquids, aqueous solutions, or dispersions.
If 3D food printing is successful, its biggest advantages may be extended shelf life, personalized nutrition and variety, and minimal waste. Such advantages may benefit other populations, such as the military or those with acute food needs due to natural disasters or famines.
Raising the bar on nutrition research
The relationship between diet and health is well established but not well understood. To gain a better understanding of the role of nutrition in human health, a global consortium of 23 researchers and universities called NutriTech (www.nutritech.nl) has been formed to investigate the concept of “phenotypic flexibility,” which is critical to homeostasis and healthy aging. Mechanisms of phenotypic flexibility include glucose regulation, optimal inflammatory balance, oxidative stress regulation, DNA damage response and apoptosis, HPA mediated stress response, the immune system, and others.
Funded by the EU to the tune of €6 million, NutriTech explores the use of novel analytical technologies and methods to comprehensively evaluate the diet-health relationship and critically assess their usefulness for the future of nutrition research and human health. Technologies include genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, laser scanning cytometry, NMR-based lipoprotein profiling, and advanced imaging by MRI/MRS.
In the future, NutriTech will apply these integrated methods to assess the underlying and related cell biological and genetic mechanisms and multiple physiological processes of adaptation when these mechanisms and processes are under stress. Methods will be evaluated within a human intervention study, and the resulting optimal methods will be validated against established endpoints. The ultimate goal of the project is to successfully integrate emerging technologies intro nutrition research.
The project began in January 2012 and is expected to run four years. Partners in NutriTech include TNO, Imperial College London, Wageningen University, ILSI Europe, CSIRO, and Tufts University. In addition, a second consortium has been established with five major European food manufacturers to accelerate application within the food industry. The goal is to develop new health-promoting foods and beverages and gain greater scientific substantiation for health claims.
“Global standardized and accepted research methods will enable manufacturers to scientifically substantiate their health claims,” says Ben van Ommen, Principal Scientist at TNO. “The new measurement methods that the consortium will develop will enable the health effect of food to be better demonstrated and so facilitate the development of new, healthy food.”
Recent research by TNO, which has a coordinating role in both projects, has confirmed the health benefits of eating 200 g/day of vegetables. Utilizing an innovative nutrigenomics approach involving sensitive omics technologies, biomarkers, and advanced software for bioinformatics and network analysis, the researchers found that high vegetable consumption had a favorable effect on energy metabolism, inflammatory processes, and the level of oxidative stress in the body.
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