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"Poised between intransigent scepticism and uncritical credulity, it [science fiction] is par excellence the literature of the open mind."
- John Brunner

Surta  
  A base material for synthetic food.  

They were queer-looking specimens, these gentle, willing allies of the Earthmen. Their home planet is a place of ever-clouded skies and constant torrential rains. And so the Venusians were amphibians, web-footed, fish-faced, their skin a green covering of horny scales that shed water and turned the sharp thorns of their native jungles. When intrepid explorers discovered in the mazes of Mercury's spongy interior the surta that was so badly needed as a base material for synthetic food to supply Earth's famine-threatened population, it was to these loyal and amiable beings that ITA's engineers turned for workers who could endure the stifling heat of the underground workings.
From The Great Dome of Mercury, by Leo Zagat.
Published by Astounding Stories in 1932
Additional resources -

Compare to the crop algae from Cities in Flight (1957) by James Blish, the food factory from Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980) by Frederik Pohl, and protine from Solar Lottery (1955) by Philip K. Dick.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Great Dome of Mercury
  More Ideas and Technology by Leo Zagat
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