IMAGINE hitting a button on a machine to receive a blob of food tailored just for you, precisely calculated for your daily needs based on everything from your sweat right down to your genetic code.
That's the dream of Dr Amy Logan, team leader for dairy science at the CSIRO's food structure research group, who has just kicked off a three-year study into the personalised fabrication of smart food systems.
Personalised nutrition, which involves creating tailored diets based on data including genetic information, as well as lifestyle and physiological state obtained from real-time sensors, has been hailed as the future of food.
According to the European Food Information Council, not only will it help to optimise individual health, it may also work on a larger scale to "help prevent society-wide diseases such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and malnutrition".
Dr Logan, who is presenting a seminar at the Foodpro food manufacturing expo at the International Convention Centre in Sydney this weekend, is melding the sciences of personalised nutrition and intelligent manufacturing such as 3D printing.
"The vision we have is that in 20 years time, someone would wake up in the morning, their physiological markers will have already been measured in a really unintrusive way, potentially through their sweat while they've been sleeping using biosensor technology," she said.
"It's already conveyed that information to a software system that's linked to this, what we're calling a 'food generator', that's sitting on their kitchen bench, and that will be what generates this structured food that has their nutrients for the day.
"They'll have their coffee maker, and their food generator. The beauty is they don't need to put much thought into it - it has already determined what they need. They can also put in information, so if you're going on a 10km hike that day, obviously your needs are going to be different."
"The idea is it is actual food," she said.
"We appreciate that while consumers are wanting that next level of nutrition, they still enjoy the mouthfeel, the traditions of eating a proper meal.
"We're doing the underpinning work at the moment to examine how we can structure these foods. We're looking at, as a basis, high-protein based foods, so there is a nice structure. We're looking at what the best mechanism would be, not closing any doors."
3D printing, however, is "quite limited" in what it can do at the moment.
"That's really going to be at the heart of the research," she said.
"We have a three-year program in place looking at what are those new, innovative technologies that can take us to that next level."
Dr Logan said the program was targeted at the everyday person, but could provide benefits across the entire spectrum, from high-performance athletes to the elderly.
"We're seeing trends that everyday, average people are more willing to have their data collected, through Fitbits and other monitoring techniques, and are more interested in what it is they're eating.
"So our specific outcome is for better well-being. We also have another program that's looking at structuring foods for people with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and potentially this would be suitable for schools as well, so you can make sure every Australian child is getting the right nutrition."