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A Cornucopia of Microbial Foods
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 03, 2021

DARPA envisions on-demand microbial-origin food production anywhere in the world using water, air, and electricity.

Military deployments around the world come with lengthy, costly, and complex logistics, including tons of food to sustain troops over weeks and months. Similarly, military support to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR) requires large food provisions, which displaces cargo space that otherwise could be used to transport supplies, water, and other necessities to people in a disaster zone and may not meet the nutritional needs of civilian populations.

Today, DARPA announced Cornucopia, a program that seeks to enable food production on demand and on site, an advance that could significantly reduce the logistical burden of food transportation and enable sustenance for an indefinite period of time provided there is sufficient water and energy.

"Cornucopia seeks to produce from air, water and electricity - with minimal supplementation - a range of microbial-origin, nutritious foodstuffs that taste good and offer complete nutrition for military applications ranging from troops in austere locations to civilians and troops during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations," said Molly Jahn, program manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office. "The vision is to enable food production during military missions that meets unit needs and preferences as well as those of local populations when conducting HADR operations."

Eating microbes is nothing new. Humans eat trillions of microbes every day - our bodies contain kilograms of microbial biomass. In recent years, a number of companies have demonstrated the capability to create certain microbial-origin foods - primarily protein-based products - from minimal inputs with the aim of reducing land consumption from crop farming and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Cornucopia will build on these commercial technologies, but existing efforts alone are not sufficient to meet DoD needs since they are almost exclusively focused on proteins and they rely on industrial infrastructure that is not mobile.

A transportable Cornucopia system would convert electricity, air, and water into simple molecules that can be used as sources of energy to turn the carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen from air and water into more microbes that produce food molecules - including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber - in the form of safe, palatable foodstuffs with various flavors and textures.

"Recent advances in microbiology, genetic sequencing, bioactive hybrid materials, and electrochemical syntheses of three-carbon or more compounds have brought us to a place where we can attempt this bold leap," Jahn said.

"Breakthroughs in electrochemistry and materials have the promise to eliminate the very high pressure and intensive reactions to capture carbon dioxide or synthesize ammonia, doing both at room temperature and pressure."

Cornucopia will focus on three areas: domesticated microbes for human consumption; tailorability; and integrated system demonstrations benchmarked by two military use cases, a small unit in austere conditions and a HADR scenario.

DARPA is seeking input and proposals from government research laboratories; universities; as well as small, medium, and large commercial companies. International research organizations, government, academic, or commercial are also welcome to apply.

A webcast Proposers Day for interested proposers is scheduled for Dec. 15, 2021. For more details and to register visit: https://go.usa.gov/xeVT6. A Broad Agency Announcement solicitation with full program details is expected to be posted on SAM.gov in the coming weeks.

Related Links
Cornucopia at DARPA
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