Interplanetary travel probably means that astronauts will need to carry ecosystems along to supply food and oxygen. Past studies of potential space food have considered poultry, fish and even snails, newts and sea urchin larvae, but they all have downsides. Chickens, for instance, require a lot of food and space, and aquatic life is sensitive to water conditions that may be hard to maintain.

Scientists at Beihang University in Beijing suggest recruiting silkworms, which are already eaten in parts of China. These insects breed quickly, require little space, food or water, and produce only minute amounts of excrement, which could serve as fertilizer for onboard plants. Silkworm pupae, which are mostly edible protein, contain twice as much essential amino acids as pork and four times as much as eggs and milk. The scientists, whose conclusions were published online December 24, 2008, by Advances in Space Research, also point out that chemical processes could even make the silk digestible. Move over, Tang.