Astronauts May Soon Grow & Eat SPACE Tomatoes
University of California – Riverside has developed tiny tomato plants that could solve the food issue for astronauts in Space. The plants stalks and have leaves but generate a normal quantity of fruit, which makes them a harvest for cultivation anywhere with limited soil and natural resources.
With a grant in the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, UCR investigators will tweak the tomatoes to make them uniquely suited to grow in space. Dubbed Little Plants for spACe Expeditions, plants or SPACE from the researchers, the technologies can be applied to crops to come up with a suite of plants for agriculture around space colonies and the International Space Station.
Robert Jinkerson, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering in the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering and Martha Orozco-Cárdenas, director of the Plant Transformation Research Center in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, will use the two-year $800,000 grant to continue to lower the size of the tiny plants, engineer them to get improved photosynthesis, develop them in a container that mimics conditions on the International Space Station, examine the fruit’s nutritional content, and conduct taste tests.
Orozco-Cárdenas originally used gene-editing technology that was CRISPR-Cas9 to shrink the size of tomato plants and reduce the ratio of leaves and stems to fruit.
It was quite exciting to find out how one base change in a few of the genes can have this impact on plant growth and development,” she explained.
Soon there will be nine billion people on Earth, but the land is decreasing – lesser lands can be inhabited. Also, global food production will have to double to meet the food requirements by then. On the top climatic fluctuations will increase the problems.
Most vegetable and fruit plants produce inedible leaves and stems, known as biomass, than vegetables or edible fruit. Plants with portions than biomass could produce large amounts of spaces such as farms that are vertical and food on small plots. But, vertical farming techniques tend to develop greens since they have trouble supporting larger fruiting plants like tomatoes.
In addition to their small dimensions, energy and resource consumption is minimized by the UC Riverside tiny tomatoes by producing fruit than traditional plants.
The traits which make the tomatoes suitable for growing in urban farms around Earth, with a few tiny tweaks, could make them suitable for developing on the International Space Station, where astronauts yearn for vegetables and fresh fruit.
“When I first saw those very small berries growing in Martha’s lab, I just knew we had to get them onto the space station,” Jinkerson said.
1 modification that is necessary is to increase the rate of photosynthesis that enables the plants to convert carbon dioxide and to produce oxygen. Photosynthesis can help replace carbon dioxide into space channel air with oxygen, enhancing sustainability and the air quality of human life in space.
These chemical editing approaches can be applied to other plants for use here on Earth which could help bring people to settlements in distance and also feed the growing population.
“Most plant research has already focused on optimizing crops for expansion outside in areas, opening up a lot of opportunities to engineer plants for built environments such as in distance or greenhouses,” said Jinkerson.