WikiCells: Food Packaging You Can Eat

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Rachel L. Weiss

Harvard scientist David A. Edwards has developed a new spray vaccine for tuberculosis that could save thousands and help transform tech transfer.

Professor David A. Edwards is at it again. Having already developed creations that include inhalable chocolate, inhalable caffeine, and a tuberculosis vaccine in the form of a spray, the innovative biomedical engineer from Harvard is now introducing WikiCells: a new edible packaging technology that allows individuals to eat and transport food without plastic.

"The idea was to try to create a bottle which was based on how nature creates bottles," Edwards said of his motivation for developing WikiCells, citing grapes as an example of one of nature's "bottles." WikiCells imitate such natural packaging by enclosing food and liquid in an edible membrane. This membrane, which is comprised of a charged polymer and food particles, is in turn protected by a hard shell which can be broken away much like that of an egg.

Edwards and his team have thus far developed a variety of different platforms for WikiCells, which can be served as meals, drinks, and snacks. Edwards described a few of the WikiCells that his team has created: a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup that can be poured over bread, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that you can drink with a straw, smaller grape-like membrane holding wine, and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate. "There's an infinite variety [of possibilities]. People can make whatever they want," Edwards said.

Edwards explained that he plans to develop WikiCells further so that they will someday be commercially available to the broader public. "In the near term, we will be encountering Wikicells in restaurant settings," he said. After that, Edwards plans to expand WikiCells to specialty stores and supermarkets. Eventually, he even hopes to develop a product platform for WikiCells, which would allow individuals to produce their own edible bottles. "People in a village in Africa could become plastic bottle-free and make things for themselves. It's really exciting from a humanitarian point of view."

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