7 Sci-Fi Stories in which Biomass Saves Humanity's Ass

October 14 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Biotechnology   Year: 2008   Rating: 5 Hot

There’s an interesting post over at the Energy Roadmap titled Investors betting on biological future for biofuels – We can ‘grow’ energy!.

It got me thinking — is our salvation really in the hands of these small microbials? Do science fiction writers have it right?

War of the Worlds
An invasion of Martians threaten to obliterate humanity. Humans are forced to run, unable to combat the technologically advanced tripods the Martians are manning. All seems lost until tripods start falling down for unknown reasons. Eventually, all the Martians have died due to a lack of immunities against Earth’s bacteria.

Red Planet
Earth, due to overpopulation and pollution, has seeded Mars with oxygen-producing algae in the hope of being able to eventually move to the planet. Astronauts are sent to the planet to find out why oxygen production has stalled and discover a native bug which feeds on the algae and produces oxygen. Running out of air, the astronauts remove their helmets expecting to die but find oxygen.

Logan’s Run
Box, the cyborg robot which oversees the food production) of the city where the story takes place, harvests food from the sea like plankton and algae for later consumption. Unfortunately, Box goes kind of insane and ends up freezing Runners trying to escape from Carousel, an arena where people witness the execution of those who have reached the age of 30 (21 in the book). Algae and plankton were important to the early settlers of the city due to war, overpopulation and pollution in the world outside.

Battlestar Galactica
Forced to roam the galaxy, humans rely on frozen food in freighter ships for their sustenance. As food stores got low, they became more and more desperate to find a viable food source. In their travels they find a planet containing algae which can be turned into food. They make bars, mash and crackers from the algae which consist of almost pure protein.

It’s not sure exactly where the city of Zion) or its ships get their food from — we know that geothermal energy provides electricity, water and air purification, as well as heat — but food we only see as a weird type of oatmeal slop packed with proteins. It’s safe to assume that due to the lack of sunlight and fertilizer the residents of Zion rely on algae or plankton for their food needs.

The Andromeda Strain
A deadly microorganism is released from a falling satellite which threatens to destroy all of humanity. It has a kill rate of almost 100% and travels at incredible speeds. The only thing found to kill it is a bacteria found near deep-sea ocean vents. By producing huge vats of it, scientists manage to save the world. Of course, the reason Andromeda was created was to show humanity that it needs to stop killing life because down the line it may become important to our survival.

Soylent Green
This may be a bit of a stretch. In the movie, overpopulation, global warming and pollution has gotten so bad that the government is forced to give out food in the form of different colored bricks (soy(bean) and lent(ils) are what makes up the foodstuffs). Then comes Soylent Green, a new food bar which is more nutritious than any of the other bars and supposedly comes from sea plankton. Sadly, it is discovered that it’s actually made up of human bodies.

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. I think a Red Planet scenario is quite plausible—but there won’t be any rapid evolution like sophisticated insects arising, if we launched massive amounts of algae at the planet after inundating it with CO2.

    Step 1: Heat the planet and melt the ice to create massive oceans.

    Step 2: Cultivate algae and other CO2 eaters to create massive amounts of oxygen and create a “thick” atmosphere.

    Step 3: Wait till the atmosphere is sufficient and start planting trees and other plant life to speed up the process…

    Of course this would take a lot of resources and probably run into the trillions of dollars. It would have to be a concerted effort of nations, in my opinion.

    Logan’s Run is plausible and now that I think about it is pretty eerie. In 100 years, there is serious consideration of strong A.I’s running corporations. If you go to Long Bets there is actually a running bet seriously contemplating this very idea! Throw in some of the worse-case scenarios of the Singularity and I actually get nervous.

    That could then lead to Soylent Green because the A.I might just realize that it can recycle us, as a rational and very “green solution.”

    As to get back on the topic at hand, we’ve had a history of eating different forms of bacteria, insects, biomass to feed ourselves. Right now we’re in a golden age, where processed foods are such a luxury we take them for granted and its making us FAT and unhealthy.

    My parents always told me to eat my vegetables (biomass?) I guess they are right.

    Posted by: Covus   October 15, 2008
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  2. Awesome list… microbes and mankind! This has definitely been an undervalued theme in sci-fi movies! These writers and directors seem tapped into life at that nano scale…and the fact that microbes are watching our back…

    Posted by: Garry Golden   October 15, 2008
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  3. Nice. I like videos accompanying an article.

    Posted by: JohnNg   October 16, 2008
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  4. It all made sense before Box…

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   October 16, 2008
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