Skip to main content

B.C. researchers on mission to prevent malnutrition in space

A team of researchers at the University of British Columbia is on a mission to prevent malnutrition in space, as NASA aims to launch humans to Mars by the end of the next decade.

Food scientist Dr. John Frostad, an assistant professor in chemical and biological engineering, is spearheading efforts at UBC to develop techniques to keep Omega-3 fatty acids in astronauts during future space missions.

“The shelf life of most omega-3 capsules is around two years, but space missions can go for longer than that and they must be self-sufficient,” Frostad said in a UBC news release. “Expired omega-3 supplements can have carcinogenic properties, so the stockpiles that you do have should stay at their absolute best.”

In an interview with CTV News, a graduate student working with Frostad emphasized the importance of ensuring missions venturing beyond the International Space Station are properly supplied from the start.

“The thing about the ISS is that it’s in close enough proximity to Earth that you can send up supplies,” said Cody Rector, who is currently pursuing his master of science degree in food science. “The problem is once you’re millions of kilometres from Earth, you don’t get a redo, there’s no second chance.”

Humans aren’t able to produce omega-3 fatty acids, but even a few days without it in our diets may dull our brains and make us feel less than our best, according to UBC’s release.

Researchers are currently pursuing two approaches to expand the shelf life of omega-3s, one of which is through quinoa powder.

“The ultimate goal for our project would be to create a powdered beverage,” Rector said. “If this powder is made in the way we intend it to be, it can be added to water and effectively turn into three per cent (homogenized) milk that’s made from these healthy fats.”

Using a ball analogy, Rector explains researchers are trying to use different starches of different sizes to create an emulsion that makes oil and water “work together.”

“You can imagine a beach ball…the beach ball is the oil, and then just imagine a bunch of golf balls all the way around it,” Rector said.

“But there’s still little holes, you still can’t get them to touch each other. But what if you had baseballs and golf balls…and you try to patch in the holes,” said Rector.

Frostad’s team began its work 14 months ago, and hopes to conclude research in another year and a half. From there, the product will have to be approved by the regulatory body.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Lauren Pullen. Top Stories

CBC says it is cutting 600 jobs, some programming as it slashes budget

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Radio-Canada will eliminate about 600 jobs and not fill an additional 200 vacancies. The cuts at CBC come days after the Liberal government suggested it may cap the amount of money CBC and Radio-Canada could get under a $100 million deal Ottawa recently signed with Google.

Stay Connected