Why can't we synthesize the nutrients that we need directly from chemical reactions, from energy and simple inorganic molecules found around us? If it's hard, why not try to copy how plants do it?

I feel like growing plants is very inefficient: it is consuming a lot of energy for intermediate steps that may not be required – growing roots or inedible parts, performing reproduction, consuming soil and space, requiring constant light and irrigation... And huge amounts of energy is invested to slightly compensate for these caveats and increase productivity, while it still looks like an inefficient way of doing synthesis of nutrients and other compounds we need to eat. Is there a reason that such resources are not directed to building processes to perform such synthesis via other – hopefully more efficient – means than growing plants/animals?

Note that I found a partial answer there, however I was not satisfied by an unexplained "photosynthesis is the only viable way to create material that can yield those nutrients".

Is photosynthesis that hard? If that so, why?

If it's so hard using organic chemistry, why cannot we simply extract/mimic the biological reactions happening in the plants to generate nutrients? (we still don't need to grow whole plants)

If we are not able to do that, what does it means about our current understanding/mastery of chemistry and biology ?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about logistics of industrial chemically-synthesized food production. $\endgroup$
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Is there another stackexchange I could move it to? $\endgroup$
    – palkeo
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure (perhaps Worldbuilding). In any stackexchange, this would be a broad question. $\endgroup$
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Why are so many "why" questions accepted here? Everything is turning into phylosophy instead of biology. Why does everyone question everything when there is no major problem with it? Also, many nutrients, mainly sugars and sugar alcohols, are already artificially produced and they are mainly associated with - problems. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ 1) Even if we could synthesize "food" reasonably efficiently, we don't know everything that is needed for a healthy diet. 2) Growing plants provide many other services - from replenishing oxygen to soil stabilization to just being pleasant to be around. Since you have them for all those other reasons, why not use them for food too, rather than resorting to industrial chemistry? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


We are part of a biological system, and we evolved to be part of it. Plants are the base of that system, and the main means of capturing energy and inorganic compounds and converting them to nutrients which are bio-available, along with bacteria. The further we move from the niche we evolved to occupy, and the further we change the environment of the rest of the system, the more likely we are to bring about our own extinction. Edit: This answer is somewhat opinion based. We haven't finished the experiment that proves this thesis, yet.


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