Could astronaut urine be the key to safer space travel?

gory ISS drinking recycled water NASA free
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station toast people back home with water recycled from their urine. A new system not only would turn pee into drinking water but also produce energy. via NASA

Yeast strains of Yarrowia lipolytica that naturally like to feed on urine have been bioengineered to produce omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to human health, as well as polyesters that can be made into moldable shapes.

Generating tools and products from waste compounds is more efficient for a space mission than stockpiling food and supplies, which take up precious cargo room and require extra fuel to escape Earth’s gravity.

[Mark Blenner, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Clemson University] and his team used the genetically engineered yeast to produce 50 mg of omega-3s and 250 mg of plastic.

As the yeast grow, they’d create the omega-3 fatty acids, which store up inside their cell walls. Ideally the yeast would be engineered to accumulate a large percentage of their body weight as omega-3s. How they’d be consumed is still an outstanding question.

“They’re full of protein and amino acids and omega-3s,” said Blenner. “You could technically eat that, as long as the astronauts would like the taste of it, which is a question.”

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: This Bioengineered Yeast Can Turn Astronaut Urine Into Food and Plastic

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