Synthesis of food

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This article is speculative. It covers topics that are not straightforwardly derivable from current knowledge. Take it with a grain of salt. See: "exploratory engineering" for what can be predicted and what not.
Don't worry. It won't be like that. (image source: DT Eightron ep1)

A summary of the most important results are given first.
Afterwards follows a hopefully sufficiently informed in depth analysis showing what leads to these results. Note that the results are presented in the writing style of facts in present tense just for brevity.

The results:

  • Food is not produced by gem-gum nanofactories (the main focus of this wiki).
    They will mainly focus on products out of inedible gemstone based metamaterials.
  • Food is produced by specialized micro-managed food production devices.

  • Synthesized food is not a replica of biological food down to the location of every single atom.
  • Synthesized food has only reproduction accuracy to a level that makes it indiscernible from natural food for the human senses.

  • In many cases advanced devices specialized for food synthesis just optimally manage biological cell growth on the microscale level.
  • In some cases advanced devices specialized for food synthesis may synthesize simple standard molecules like e.g. sugar.
  • Devices specialized food synthesis involve microscale paste printing.

Furthermore:

Specialized food synthesizers:

  • are themselves produced by non food producing gem-gum nanofactories
  • have stiff diamondoid components that manage low stiffness nontoxic organic matter.


Note that for didactic reasons in the following deliberations these results will be explained in a different order than here initially presented.

Methods of food synthesis

First an approach that seems practical and worth of pursue:

  • 1) The preproduction and paste placement method with various forms of organic matter preproduction.

Then an approach that seems not worth of pursue and extremely difficult if not impossible.

  • 2) The perfect copy.

1) Preproduction and paste placement method

This method involves squirting out pre-produced nontoxic organic matter from microscopic nozzles.
It works just like some of todays makroscopic 3D printers just on a much smaller microscale size level (not nanoscale!).

  • The structures produced are small enough such that their details are not perceptible by human senses.
  • The structures produced can emulate a range of consistencies/textures wide enough to encompass the range of consistencies/textures found in natural food.

Much like computer displays do not need to replicate the light field down to the single photon level to make us accept the illusion of a real scene. Food does not have to have every atom in place to make us believe it is the real deal. It's basically the principle of metamaterials applied to food. There are significant differences to gem-gum metamaterials though. More on that later.

Going further up the production process one might find some form of convergent assembly. Convergent assembly makes sense for the exact same reasons it makes sense for gem-gum nanofactories (TODO: check in how far this is true). The convergent assembly here must be capable of dealing with high levels of dirt though since the products themselves are like dirt. So anything coming after the nozzle squirt-out step happens in an unclean area. Convergent assembly only works if the preproduced paste blocks are sufficiently sturdy (e.g. frozen). Thermal treatment might be involved at various size levels. (Maybe for fusing blocks)

Going further down the production process (upstream) one might find high viscosity microscale blender mechanisms and then the systems responsible for pre-production.

There are at least two methods for the pre-production of the organic matter.

Cell growth managed on the microscale

Growing cells in small diamondoid compartments (maybe even down to the single cell per compartment level) allows extreme control over unwanted virus activity not to speak about "giant" bacteria. This approach seems pretty practical. It is related to todays early attempts at creating cultured lab meat.

The cells themselves of course need food in form of organic chain molecules. ...

Synthesis of organic chain molecules in machine phase

These can either be incorporated directly in to the product or be used as food for cells cultivated in a highly controlled fashion.

There is:

In the case of inorganic gem-gum nanofactories just a minimal capability of gemstone mechanosynthesis (e.g. just diamond) allows the production of a vast range of properties far beyond anything available today due to the "magic" of gemstone metamaterial property emulation.

In the case of organic specialized food synthesizers the situation is by far not that easy. To produce something decently healthy one needs mechanosynthesic capabilities that can handle a sizable set of situations that can occur in the process of mechanosynthesis of floppy chain molecules like e.g. branches and inclusions of various chemical elements. (For food synthesis metamaterials only come into play at a bigger size level and thus do not help here.)

Related: Main article about mechanosynthesis of floppy chain molecule structures.

A summarizing note on "metamaterial food"

  • On the microscale metamaterials may work for food synthesis (with some severe restrictions)
  • On the nanoscale food synthesis is a prime example of where the principle of metamaterials cannot be applied since ...

  • ... we very much care which chemical elements are involved and in which kinds of molecules they are embedded.
  • On the macroscale again we obviously very much care about the properties of our food again.

In-between these two - the very small nanoscale and perceivable big makroscale (~5nm ... ~32um maybe) - there is the food structure irrelevancy gap (ad hoc word invention). There we very much do not care how our food is arranged. This gives us the freedom to apply the principle of metamaterials

The structure on the micro to makroscale makes the experienceable texture of the food so here patterning the products becomes important. With only a few molecules a lot of textures may be achievable (here the metamaterial approach works - conventional baking as post processing to get something like an crispy dough?)

Chemical compounds

In gem-gum systems diamondoid compounds put into metamaterial structures form the lowest level basis of products. Treating the basic chemical compounds of food the same way does not lead very far. The main difference here is that one can't get away with just one material for all applications at all. You may produce pure sugar structures with various textures but they all taste the same and merely provide quick calories but its common knowledge that you'll get ill from such a diet.

Natural food has millions of chemical compounds in it. There will be a lot of development work needed for each class of compounds. This is in stark contrast to simple synthesis of diamondoid metamaterial structures. There you only need to specify the locations for the atoms in high level software and don't have to design new toolpath trajectories. Not to mention even new kinds of tooltips and nanorobotics. The synthesized food might thus for some time rather be a simple cocktail of nutrients containing only the molecules that one is able to synthesize rather that a food source that is certain to be healthy. See main article: Healthiness and cost of synthesized food.

2) The perfect copy/replication

Since a much more inaccurate replica can be indistinguishable from the original and perfectly fool the human senses. Getting synthesized food equal to the original at the level of the exact position of every (immobilized) atom is rather pointless. The correct chemical elements and molecules must be contained - yes - but how they arranged in the size-scales of the aforementioned "food structure irrelevancy gap" where we cannot perceive it does not matter at all.

What could motivate one to attempt perfect replication anyway is:

  • scientific curiosity / engineering challenge - just for the sake of itself
  • a psychological aspect

Ignoring the point that this approach it is not worth of persuasion: Could a prefect replication of (e.g. an apple) hypothetically be done? This analysis is a bit lengthy so its located further down in a dedicated section. (TODO: add this analysis)

In summary it turns out that this endeavor is extremely difficult if not entirely impossible.

Degree of necessity

Today a common argument for artificial energy efficient production of food is that we need to be able to continue feeding the growing world population. But there is the overlooked issue that the emergence advanced APM technology is likely to lead to rapid decline of population instead which poses entirely different problems.

Aside that at the point where the products start to look good taste good and are not too unhealthy theres little doubt that it will find widespread use. Nonetheless we probably don't want to replace our diet but extend it.

Btw: Natural food is already a self replicating technology so APM will not make the cost for food drop in the same radical way as it will for anything factory produced.

Possible concrete processing chain of a specialized food synthesizer device

Bottom line: What probably makes most sense is simple food molecule synthesis plus managed in-vitro cell breeding done in parallel. Then blending of those two main classes of ingredients (high surface area high viscosity friction issues!) then micro-scale meta food 3D-printing (friction issues again) interleaved by possibly by heat treatments aka baking/cooking. All managed in a specialized diamondoid system but not done with gem-gum-nanofactories that make car tires, socks and all the other non-food stuff.

Related

  • Bio-Printing for medicine (offtopic)

Older Intro

As mentioned here advanced productive nanosystems like nanofactories are quite unsuitable for food production.

Virtually all molecules that make up our food are very flexible chain molecules often with branches and sometimes with aromatic rings. Those are harder to Mechanosynthesize than simple and stiff diamondoid structures.

One may consider small salt crystals an exception but they get instantly dissolved and do not stay crystalline in the body. Salts are probably best handled dissolved and sorted with nanopores but they should be handleable mechanosynthetically in solid state too since they do not diffuse at room temperature.

Related