5
$\begingroup$

Let's say we have fabricating machine which disassembles anything on molecular level and assembles again in different order. We know that food consists of proteins, fat, carbohydrates and vitamins.

Assuming that we don't have any problem with energy source: can we fabricate any type of food from various types of junk (metal, plastic and paper) and even from dirt?

$\endgroup$
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ We already have such devices; they're called "plants". $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Mar 28 at 15:01
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ ...and also "chickens". $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Mar 28 at 22:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ Marvin the Paranoid Android: They work really well on solar power, too, and you really don't even need the junk, unless maybe you want to build cultivators & other tools out of it. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 29 at 4:02
11
$\begingroup$

We know that food consists of proteins, fat, carbohydrates and vitamins

To a lower level, that boils down to carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and other elements.

Can we fabricate any type of food from various types of junk (metal, plastic and paper) and even from dirt?

If you take a bar of iron, you will get just iron and maybe some oxygen if it was a tad rusted. In general with metals alone you will miss most of the elements I listed above.

If you take only plastic, you will get carbon, hydrogen and maybe nitrogen or oxygen, but other elements will be missing.

A tad better goes with paper: being made of cellulose fibers, it allows you to get carbon, oxygen, hydrogen.

Therefore if you want to make food for heterothroph beings, you are better off starting from organic wastes, since they bring a more complete set of the needed elements.

Atoms have no memory of where they were before, so the food that you will make in this way, if is has the same composition, will be indistinguishable from the "true" one.

To put it in another way, when farmers use manure to fertilize the ground where they grow trees and crops, the plants will use the atoms contained in the manure to make the apple or the wheat which will end up in the apple pie you are eating right now.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Dirt is probably the best bet of the list we’ve been given, since it’ll contain organic debris. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Mar 28 at 10:44
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ So if I just throw all types of junks and dirt into one pile. Disasseble then, and then assemble it into pizza. It will be just exact type of pizza that are being sold in shops? $\endgroup$ – Mr.D Mar 28 at 11:22
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Mr.D, yes. Atoms have no memory of their history. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Mar 28 at 11:27
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ One should note that the more different the input and output, the more energy this transformation will likely require. Even with handwavium providing unlimited energy, the waste heat will be a serious problem. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 28 at 15:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget, C, H, O and N are all just hanging around in large quantities in the air. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 28 at 22:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.