What is the effect of weightlessness and cosmic radiation on seeds and can you give crops new properties in space? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are seeking the answer to this question and have launched seeds into space.
Seeds from the IAEA and FAO Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratories travel to the International Space Station. The goal is to develop new crops through space mutagenesis that can adapt to climate change on Earth. These include the seeds of Arabidopsis, a plant often used in genetic experiments for its unique properties, and sorghum, a nutrient-rich grain used for human food, animal feed and ethanol.
The seeds will be exposed to space conditions for approximately three months inside and outside the International Space Station. Think microgravity, a complex mix of cosmic rays and extremely low temperatures.
Upon their return, scientists from the Joint FAO/IAEA Center for Nuclear Techniques for Food and Agriculture will cultivate the seeds and screen them for useful properties to better understand space-induced mutations in plant seeds. It’s space mutagenesis. The aim is to identify new varieties capable of adapting to the changing conditions associated with climate change.
This is the first time that the IAEA and the FAO have carried out genomic and biological analyzes of seeds exposed to space mutagenesis. On the International Space Station, seeds are exposed to conditions that cannot be simulated in a laboratory on Earth.
A goal of the experiment is also to compare these seeds with the specimens exposed to radiation under laboratory conditions, in order to study the DNA and the effects on growth.
Improvement from space
FAO Director General QU Dongyu has high expectations for the project. Millions of smallholder farmers around the world urgently need high-quality, resilient seeds suitable for increasingly harsh growing conditions. Innovative science, such as growing improved crop varieties in space, can help pave the way for a better future with better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life.
The experience unfolds as leaders gather at COP 27 of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They discuss pressing environmental challenges, including the significant impact of the climate crisis on the world’s agrifood production systems.
According to a report on climate change and land from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the stability of the world’s food supply will decline in the future. This has serious consequences for the most vulnerable people. New crop varieties from space can help farmers maintain food production and quality.
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