The Nanoracks Company plans to unleash greenhouses into orbit to create ultra-resilient crops capable of thriving in the most hostile environments on earth. In this way, the researchers hope to ward off the looming food crisis resulting from climate change.
Our species has been permanently physically present in space for a little over twenty years. Also, from the start, researchers have focused on ways to grow food that can be consumed in space. Nanoracks is aiming for a different project: use space to grow food for the benefit of Earth’s inhabitants.
Based in Houston (Texas), this company has just signed a contract with the Abu Dhabi investment office (ADIO) to open a “space version” agricultural research center in the United Arab Emirates (UAE): the StarLab Space Farming Center. Concretely, the goal would be to grow plants in space in such a way that they become more resistant. In fact, they could then be grown in the most arid conditions on our planet.
Beneficial DNA mutations
As Jeffrey Manber, CEO and co-founder of Nanoracks, points out, this work builds on previous research showing that new mutations in plant DNA can emerge in microgravity environment. These new mutations could then lead to the creation of new, more resilient varieties.
China in particular has long had experience of this type of approach. In fact, the second most popular wheat variety currently grown in the country, Luyuan 502, was developed through spatial breeding.
“Thanks to the DNA mutations that occur in space, we have created strains that have higher yields, which offer better nutritional profiles and better resistance to disease. They also require less water or tolerate higher temperatures ”, points out to Space.com Professor Liu Luxiang, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
According to the researcher, China is investing more and more in various plant breeding technologies to ensure that it will be able to feed its people in the years to come.
For their part, the United Arab Emirates could aim for more independence with regard to its food security. Indeed, at present, only 5% of land of this country are cultivated, for lack of better (arid lands, lack of water). Accordingly, the UAE import about 80% of their food. Ultimately, the idea would therefore be to be able to rely on plant species capable of withstanding this particular environment.
“Research on food production in extreme conditions of space may hold the key to improving our capabilities in desert and arid climates“, Said the spokesperson for ADIO. “That’s why we support Nanoracks“.
As a first step, several species could be sent aboard the international space station, before offering autonomous greenhouses, why not during the next five years. The StarLab Space Farming Center also provides for the development of robotic and automated systems for the maintenance of these future “space greenhouses”.