When you think of baby formula, you probably don't think of the Martek Biosciences Corporation in Columbia, Md. In fact, chances are you've never even heard of the company. The founders of Martek and many of its lead scientific team spent time as researchers for NASA, and it was there that they first conceived of a nutritional supplement called Formulaid. NASA researchers were exploring the idea of using algae as a way to create oxygen in outer space through the process of photosynthesis. During the research phase, certain types of algae were found to contain a couple of essential fatty acids that are present in human breast milk -- docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid. At Martek, the discovery was put to use in baby formula.
Many baby formulas are now enriched with DHA and ARA. The human body naturally produces both DHA and ARA, and it's been found that direct consumption of the two fatty acids can help babies -- particularly premature babies -- in their development. While long-term benefits haven't been proven yet, it appears that in the short term, both visual and neural developments are benefactors of this algae-enriched ingredient. The additives have only been in use since 2002, and while they've been FDA approved, the regulatory body has asked that companies that sell baby formula containing DHA and ARA monitor the effects for long-term study. Thanks to NASA's research, savvy parents now seek out DHA- and ARA-enriched formulas for their pre-term and full-term infants.