The experiments of the US agency to grow plants in space quickly land in laboratories that study how to improve future crops, in view of an increasingly crowded and struggling with the changing climate.
Exploration and space research – we will never tire of repeating it – have important and already appreciable consequences in everyone’s daily life. Now to the list of those dealing with health, with robotics or with the science of materials, it is added one of great importance for future food safety: a technology already used by NASA to accelerate the growth of plants in Space it has been further improved by Australian researchers, and made suitable to be tested in the laboratory, in small greenhouses and growth chambers from the desk.
The method – called speed-breeding – has already succeeded in accelerating the reproductive cycles of certain mass consumption plants and promises to be a good alternative for the improvement of non-GM crops.
MAXIMUM YIELD. The technique of speed-breeding is to use advanced LED technology to simulate intensive and prolonged daytime regimes of 22 hours, and to boost photosynthesis to achieve faster crop growth. The same group of scientists behind the new study, is already able to obtain with this technique six generations of wheat in a year, against the two that grow in normal commercial crops.Shortening the reproductive cycles of plants allows scientists to quickly and naturally select (through crossbreeding techniques) the best genetic characteristics, based on abundant yield, drought resistance and resilience in increasingly variable climatic contexts: extremely improved significant to feed a continuously growing world population.
AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE. The technique has already been used successfully on plants such as wheat, barley, peas, rapeseed (a plant used to produce a vegetable oil). The merit of Australian scientists was, on this occasion, create small compact desk greenhouses, which allow to test speed-breeding in the most varied laboratory contexts and in an economic way, before undertaking more demanding large-scale research.
AN ALTERNATIVE ROAD. This will allow researchers from all over the world to quickly identify the best naturally occurring genetic characteristics and introduce them into special varieties of cereals or legumes available to farmers. A “second way” compared to that of crops modified with modern techniques of genetic editing, which a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice has established must fall under the legislation foreseen for GMOs (even if they do not introduce “foreign” DNA into the plants).