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Nestlé wants to make a real 'Star Trek' food replicator

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The Swiss company dreams of a machine that makes tailor-made food based on individual nutrition needs

an apple
an apple

Nestlé, the world's largest food and beverage company, wants to change how we eat in the near future. Bloomberg reports that the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) has started a program called "Iron Man" that further investigates how essential nutrients affect brain, body, and gastrointestinal function. The hope — which will take years to realize — is to develop a device that scans people's individual levels of nutrients and designs food around their needs, not unlike the replicators found on Starfleet spaceships.

"If we do this right, it can be the next microwave in your kitchen."

NIHS director Ed Baetge told Bloomberg that the products created through "Iron Man" would be more effective at treating vitamin and nutrient deficiency than the supplements found in drugstores today. Those benefits — which could potentially help treat illnesses like Alzheimer's and Kwashiorkor — would extend to the presently hypothetical device that the company hopes to build in the coming years, making it easy for owners to make healthful food without doing groceries. "Out comes your food at the press of a button," Baetge said. "If we do this right, it can be the next microwave in your kitchen."

To start making this a reality, the NIHS employs more than 100 scientists studying biomarkers for diabetes and the link between vitamin and mineral deficiencies and illnesses like cardiovascular disease. In addition, Nestlé will now work with the analytical science company Waters Corp. to create individual nutrient profiles.

Of course, a food replicator like what Nestlé dreams of could be decades away — if it's at all possible. While scientists have developed techniques to determine how specific substances affect the body in order to make general dietary recommendations, catering to the individual, with his or own specific genetic variations, is much more difficult. While it's still early, a 2012 paper suggests that nutrigenomics, or the study of how food affects gene expression, could help create a pathway to personalized nutrition. For now, Nestlé is confident it can help get there. However, the NIHS almost certainly has its work cut out for it.