General Question

BronxLens's avatar

Could/should humans be able to literally feed of the Sun?

Asked by BronxLens (1539points) August 17th, 2008

If genetic engineering can transfer natural or synthetic genes to an organism (e.g. Alba, the glow-in-the-dark rabbit ) , could humans be given photosynthesis abilities, allowing us to feed literally from the Sun? What would be some of the ethical/scientific/legal, etc., reasons not to do so even if it was viable?

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7 Answers

Hobbes's avatar

Well, if such technology was widespread, it would effectively eliminate famine and starvation. I think also that if we didn’t need to eat to live, we would eat mainly for enjoyment and for the non-energy benefits of food (like fiber). Thus, good-tasting food would be in high demand, and nutritious food would be unnecessary. Other than that, I’m not sure what the impact on the food industry would be, but I’m sure it would be massive.

Not having to spend money on food would also free funds up for other items, and would go a long way towards alleviating poverty (you have more money to spend on, say, education when you don’t have to worry about putting food on the table), as well as the obesity and malnutrition problems many people suffer from.

So, although I don’t know how feasible human photosynthesis would actually be, I think the benefits it would deliver (supposing it were widely available) would outweigh whatever downsides it would have.

webmasterwilliam's avatar

Assuming that it would be possible to genetically alter human makeup to feed off solar radiation, I think it would be much safer and more productive to enhance the current photovoltaic technology to extract more power from the sun using photocells.

If we could harness enough of this FREE energy, we could use the power to drive desalinization plants to turn ocean water into farming water and grow an abundance of food around the world. A secondary benefit to turning deserts into farms is that the plants help detoxify the air we breath.

Therefore, effectively using the solar energy we could produce the 3 items we really need to survive, air, food, and water.

Harp's avatar

Here’s some food for thought: it has been calculated that it takes about 90 sq. in. of leaf surface area to produce enough carbohydrate over the course of a growing season for one apple. The average human has about 2880 sq; in. of skin surface area. That would mean that if a human’s skin were entirely photosynthetic, and if all of his skin were exposed, and if he stood outside in the sun from dawn to dusk for 6 months, he would produce the carbohydrate equivalent of 30 apples.

An average apple contains 44 calories, so to get our standard 2000 calories/day, we would need the equivalent of 45 apples. Therefore, our summer in the sun wouldn’t even provide one day’s worth of sustenance.

buster's avatar

Wow Harp that impresses me.

Hobbes's avatar

Huh. Thanks Harp, I didn’t know that. I wonder, would there be a way to make the process of photosynthesis more efficient?

ebenezer's avatar

Didn’t this research result in “Swamp Thing”?

winblowzxp's avatar

To add to harp’s comment, remember that plant life is also rooted into the ground where it soaks up minerals and other nutrients as well as water. So that’s another factor in the equation of the aforementioned apple.

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