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Algae May Help Feed a Hungry World


A boy plays on an algae-covered beach in Qingdao, Shandong province, China, July 18, 2016. (REUTERS)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Nearly 790 million people around the world do not get enough to eat. Most of them live in developing countries.

Many parts of the developing world do not have transportation systems in place that can bring food to people. It can be difficult to get food to those who need it without good roads and other necessary infrastructure.

But there is a deeper problem.

Growing or raising enough food to fight world hunger requires land. If we are talking about raising cattle for their meat – that means a lot of farmland and other resources.

A group of researchers in California may have found a way to get protein to hungry people.

Stephen Mayfield is a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego. He notes that many people are concerned about calories, the energy-producing value in food.

Mayfield specializes in algae, the scientific term for simple, plant-like organisms. He says algae have two things that the world needs: protein and lipids, or fatty acids.

"The world, in fact, is not short of calories. What they're short of is proteins and essential fatty acids. So, algae are naturally very high in proteins and in lipids and those are sort of the two things that the world really needs.

So, Mayfield and his team have created a dried, powdered form of algae. They break down the organisms into extremely small particles, which can help simplify the problem of transportation.

Not only is the algae rich in protein and easy to transport, it also tastes good.

Again, here is Mayfield.

"Here's one that we've just finished up and so what we do is we simply take this and dried it out. And as you can see, it makes a very nice green powder and that is perfectly edible. In fact, it tastes pretty good."

And growing algae uses less land than other kinds of protein. Mayfield's big idea is that algae farms could one day replace the huge amounts of land used by farmers to produce protein, in beef from cattle or soybeans.

"I'm actually really encouraged by these new companies that had started up to make these synthetic plant-based protein substitutes that look just like meat, right? Because now, 'oh that looks like something I'm familiar with. I want to eat that.' But if I could make that with algae protein instead of with beef protein, an enormous environmental benefit and probably an enormous cost benefit as well."

The United States government provided money for Mayfield’s research. His team just successfully finished a test in which they grew algae in an outdoor environment.

Mayfield adds that algae food products are not yet available for sale. But in the future algae may be one way to help feed the world’s hungry people.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Kevin Enochs reported this story for VOANews.com. Anna Matteo adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

resources n. a usable stock or supply, such as money, land or water

fatty acids n. an acid that is naturally in fats and various oils

lipids n. any one of various substances that contain fat and that are important parts of living cells

powder n. a dry substance made up of very tiny pieces of something

edible adj. suitable or safe to eat

synthetic adj. made by combining different substances : not natural

substitute n. a person or thing that takes the place of someone or something else

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