As the world's population grows, scientists have been racing against the clock to find sustainable food and fuel sources. From discovering potato strains that can be farmed on Mars to reducing the consumptions of meat and meat-based products, they're working hard to come up with solutions. In a recent breakthrough, one group of scientists may have found the answer - and it's probably not what you think.
Scientists from the University of California San Diego, along with Sapphire Energy, believe that genetically modified algae may be our future as a sustainable renewable resource. Algae can be grown in non-arable land using non-potable water, so it requires no filtration. It can also grow in saltwater, unlike crops that must be planted in the earth's soil. By genetically modifying it, we are able to grow the algae that we need without harming native algae habitats.
The hard part will be getting everyone on board. In order for this to work, algae must be domesticated. Like going from electricity to solar panels, it can be a process. And those that prefer a bag of potato chips to seaweed chips might take some persuasion. The potential, however, to use it as a renewable fuel, food, and feed source is there.
Of all food production, livestock is the most inefficient as it experiences loss up to 78 percent. Of that, 40 percent is from total harvested crop loss. Those concerned with sustainable practices and a good source of protein are better off with algae. Algae is an excellent source of protein that is a more productive crop, allowing us to feed the masses with less waste.
It's loaded in vitamins and minerals that nourish the body, unlike the processed junk food many of us consume. While genetically modified algae may not sound as good as the natural aquatic plant, if you can eat processed food with no nutrition, you shouldn't have a problem with algae.
You may be wondering if algae is so great, then why don't we just grow it like our crops? The problem is the nature of the domestication process takes time - and that's something we don't have.
Stephen Mayfield, director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology at UCSD, told Digital Trends:
"Using breeding, mutagenesis, and selection, the domestication process can take decades or even longer. Using genetic engineering in algae we can get there in years -- and the world needs us to get there soon!"
Before the use of algae as a sustainable resource can be put into motion, more testing needs to be done. The preliminaries Mayfield and his team have conducted have shown that algae could be the answer, but they need to determine that it's safe before pushing ahead. As the clock keeps ticking, the team will work hard in finding the answers we all need.