Could Algae Save Us From a Dystopian Future of Eating Insects and Lab-Grown Meat?

The effortlessly renewable, environmentally friendly crop isn’t just a source of nutrient-rich food; it can also act as livestock feed and soil fertilizer to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while saving water all over the world

By Daryn Wright

Published on December 20, 2016

As the world's population continues to soar—expect nearly 10 billion people on Earth by 2050—scientists are racing for sustainable solutions to feed an ever-growing number of bellies with limited global resources. One strong candidate? Bugs—high in protein and other nutrients, and far less harmful to the environment than livestock. The Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen is already working on recipes for bug cuisine, and it's far from the only player. Academics have held conferences on the subject. You can now even bake with something called insect flour. Entomophagy is here to stay, but we're also interested in solutions that have less in common with our favorite dystopian films.

One new possibility, Munchies reports, may come in the form of algae. A couple of weeks ago, Cornell University released a study on microalgae cultivation and how it could "become a top-tier contender to combat global warming, as well as energy and food insecurity." Easy to cultivate (just ask your neighbor with a pool) and with little environmental impact, algae production is easily scalable with several potential inroads into our existting food system. And it doesn't have extra legs.

Algae farming for the purpose of harvesting algae oil has already been touted as a possible alternative to ethanol biofuel. The Cornell study, as reported on by Science Daily, shows how algae can also be refined into a substance rich in protein and nutrients that could be added to feed for livestock, replacing more environmentally harmful crops like soy, but could also be eaten by humans. A food company called Parabel has allegedly developed Lentein, an algae powder that's extremely high in protein and behaves like whey powder with a grassy flavor.

What's more, algae cultivation dovetails well with global pollution trends. It's a single-celled organism that grows rapidly and can flourish in polluted waters where other plants and animals die. Replacing existing crops with algae farms could not only help feed millions of animals and act as a fertilizer, but also save billions of gallons of irrigation water every year, meaning that its production could provide food security to billions more people in an environmentally sound way.

The new promise of algae is reminiscent of another renewable, low-impact, and highly nutritious ocean-faring plant: seaweed. Duckweed is often used to feed farm animals in Europe, and a variation of the plant has been enjoyed as a common green vegetable in countries like Japan and Myanmar for a hundreds of years. Some hail it as the ultimate superfood; here's hoping algae can give it some competition.

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