Mana is the seed of the genetically engineered Triryza stelerba, Triryza coloniam, and Triryza caprium, a resilient family of grain-bearing grasses. Many star nations and food corporations have derived their own species to suit their needs and uses of the grain. It is incredibly versatile and can be supplanted for nearly all uses of wheat, corn, rice, amaranth, sorghum, and millet. Additional species have also been known to replace legumes.
Like rice and wheat, it is both a monocot and a perennial, with each plant able to regrow after harvesting, and rarely requires replanting. This was intentionally designed into the plant to minimize the burden upon colonial farmers.
Mana’s first production-version of the genetic strain T. stelerba, also known as T. stelerba 1.0, was developed as a combined project between NASA, the Human Continuity Project, the ESA, and various genetic engineering corporations and seed-vault institutions. The first successful crop was harvested in 2258, just two years before the first wave of the Astrum Diaspora.
One of the biggest challenges had with genetic modification was ensuring that the mana did not produce chaff when harvested or produce airborne pollen. These attributes were considered critical in a crop, as fires were caused by graphite and dust entering electronic equipment in the past. The pollination process for the mana family of plants is entirely internal.
The name “mana” comes from the biblical food known as “manna,” (Hebrew: מָן mān, Greek: μάννα; Arabic: المَنّ, Persian: گزانگبین), an edible substance which God provided for the Israelites during their 40-year exodus from Egypt, which was often made into cake and breads. Many early colonists were often travelling for many years with little more than the modern mana for food. Seeing the parallel, the name “mana” stuck with the Human Continuity Project, though many other names with less religious connotation were tried.
While mana can be consumed raw, the seedgrain is hard and has an earthy taste, and is often considered unpleasant. It also does not break down nutrients as well for use in the human body. More commonly, mana is either steamed or boiled to make into a rice-replacement, or it is ground and made into flour for various breads and cakes. It can be ground into a semolina, dried and germinated into a malt. Other frequent uses are making beers, gravies, liquours, cereals, porridge, sauces, tofu, and pastes. Different strains of mana taste differently; some are intentionally more sweet, while others are more savory, and others still are intentionally bland.
One of the more surprising uses is non-foodstuff mana. The T. metallicum strain and derivative strains are particularly adept at collecting specific trace minerals and elements out of soil. This has been a popular use of mana for colonies, particularly those with pathfinder drones, as the drones can plant fields of seeds before human colonists arive; upon arrival, specific resources are readily available through the harvest of this mana.