“The United Nations estimates that by 2050 the world will need 70 percent more food, measured in calories,” says Royal College of Arts student Johanna Schmeer, who has spent the past year working on a graduation project. “So next I was thinking about, ‘What would you do if you needed to make new foods, what application would there be?’” Schmeer is a student designer at London’s Royal College of Arts. She’s not a scientist. She’s not in a laboratory extracting enzymes from organic matter. Instead, her graduation project tackles the question: What products might be designed for these materials? When they end up in the home, how might we interact with them?
It’s no surprise that a problem of that scale has attracted the attentions of other scientists and designers around the world too. In particular, Schmeer is interested in work from a team at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands that’s laying the groundwork for creating synthetic biological material that could be used for nutrition. Their research has shown that it’s possible to use enzymes from bacteria (found in foods and plants) in new, synthetic host materials.
If developed properly, these bio-synthetic materials could be a viable host for the enzymes to photosynthesize and produce proteins, fiber, vitamins, sugar, fat, minerals, and water. As for the actual enzymes, they could come from any number of places. In her own research, Schmeer found that one fiber-producing bacteria is found in kombucha drinks. This lab work is fairly nascent, but Schmeer says food-producing material that is half biological, half synthetic, could be a reality in around 50 years.