August 10, 2014
European space farming study could shape the future of food productivity

In an exciting development for the seed and food sectors, the European Commission has announced that it will provide funding for one of the world leaders in ‘space agriculture’, Dr Gary Stutte, to take up residence at one of the EU’s leading controlled environment laboratories.

Under the Marie Curie Fellowship, Stutte will be working for two years at the Environment Laboratory for Life Sciences (CELLS) in Limerick, Ireland.  The fellowship is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, a 7 year (2014-2020), 80 billion euro research and innovation project which aims to marry science, innovation and industrial leadership  in order to tackle big societal issues.

While the term ‘space agriculture’ might conjure images of barley growing on Mars, the study of how plants respond to space ultimately reveals how organisms have adapted to conditions on Earth and is vital in our understanding of how we can produce more with less, feeding a growing a population without encroaching further upon Nature.

As Stutte himself says, “space is like a laboratory for studying how living organisms respond in the absence of gravity. This understanding leads to methods for increasing crop yields, promoting healthier organisms, and improved products.”

The earthly implications could really be revolutionary, providing some of the answers to our biggest agricultural challenges.

Already, we’re seeing how ‘space agriculture’ can be used to increase crop yields. Recent studies have shown that understanding how plants grow in 0-gravity environments could help scientists develop seeds for faster growing crops. As a case in point, NASA has already generated a wheat grain that grows 5 times faster than previously recorded. ‘Space agriculture’ – studying organisms like algae in a controlled environment – can help develop techniques to turn them into sustainable sources of protein for food and feedAlgae and other organisms can also be converted into biofuels, or bioactive compounds for use in the pharmaceutical industry. 

As we grapple with the prospect of feeding a population of more than 9 billion by 2050, and an ever-increasing demand for safer, healthier, higher-quality food, it’s innovations such as these that may well lead to pivotal solutions. 


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