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Convert wood to food at home

Image credit: Mehmood Butt / Caters News Agency

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 18, 2021
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Use enzymes in DIY home bioreactors to transform wood into food. In apocalypse prepping scenarios, stockpile enzymes/microbes, and firewood to eat and heat your home.
Why?
  • When easier sources of food are unavailable, provide people a backup ability to feed themselves wherever there is wood or grass (pretty much everywhere).
  • Per kilogram, wood is 10 times more caloric than fruit or leaves which makes it a viable source of nourishment.
  • A cheaper alternative to storing large stockpiles of emergency MREs.
How it works
One-pot enzymatic conversion of pretreated biomass to starch through a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway composed of endoglucanase, cellobiohydrolyase, cellobiose phosphorylase, and alpha-glucan phosphorylase originating from bacterial, fungal, and plant sources.
Develop this into a product. Either sell the enzymes or microorganisms that produce the enzymes. Develop a DIY recipe (what goes where and when) to make wood edible for people.
Problem description
Cellulose is an insoluble complex sugar consisting of glucose monomer chains. It's what plant cell walls are made of. Animals cannot digest it on their own. There are 3 types of animals that are able to digest cellulose with the help of microbes that live in their digestive system. Unfortunately, humans are not one of them.
Lignin is a complex organic polymer that holds the plant cells together and gives wood its rigidity. It is not easy to decompose which is why very few organisms have evolved the ability to eat/digest wood.

[1]Nonfood biomass to starch Chun You, Hongge Chen, Suwan Myung, Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh, Hui Ma, Xiao-Zhou Zhang, Jianyong Li, Y.-H. Percival Zhang Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2013, 110 (18) 7182-7187; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1302420110

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Creative contributions

Engineer small intestine microbes with an added ability to digest lignin and cellulose

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 18, 2021
Engineer small intestine microbes with an added ability to digest lignin and cellulose.
Trichonympha agilis is a specialized protist that lives in the guts of termite species that break down cellulose in the wood they eat and possibly contribute to the lignin oxidation process. This might be a suitable candidate to lift the necessary genes from and add them to a suitable microbe from the human small intestine.
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The problem of eating pure starch and similar purified molecules

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 20, 2021
I like the idea, but perhaps the main problem of such enzymatic conversions is that the final product(s) is not something equal to staple food. The final edible product of the synthesis in the article that you referenced was starch. With some additional steps, the final product could likely be fructose or some other simple, edible molecule, but one way or another those edible compounds are not something you can just eat in large quantities and be fine.
Starch could be successfully used in the food industry as a constituent for various food products, but in a domestic environment/survival situations you'd want something that you can eat as a main food source. You'd at least need some proteins to mix with starch to be able to make this into a staple food. Another problem is the taste of such mixtures. Food coming from natural sources usually has an acceptable taste because of a variety of organic molecules present in it. This is not the case with synthetic food.
So to produce staple food for survival situations you'd need at least three different enzymatic pathways to get say starch, fructose, and some edible protein or a few kinds of them. Eating a single-molecule protein might be as bad as eating pure starch. Then preferably something to make this taste better. So this would begin to remind synthetic food industry. It's also not clear how worthy such conversion is in an economical/technical sense, other ways of producing food might be preferred. Housing a productive enzymatic factory at home might be more difficult than it seems.
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Large scale wood transformation process similar to making beer at home

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 18, 2021
Develop a large-scale process where sawdust is ground then processed through basins filled with microbes. First, they depolymerize lignin, then decompose cellulose, etc. Finally, an edible, highly caloric paste is made. This can be used to enrich other food or create new dishes.
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