Plant hormone makes space farming a possibility
by Staff Writers
Zurich, Switzerland (SPX) Oct 18, 2018
With scarce nutrients and weak gravity, growing potatoes on the Moon or on other planets seems unimaginable. But the plant hormone strigolactone could make it possible, plant biologists from the University of Zurich have shown. The hormone supports the symbiosis between fungi and plant roots, thus encouraging plants' growth - even under the challenging conditions found in space.
The idea has been bounced around for a while now - and not just by the likes of NASA, but also by private entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk: that of one day establishing colonies for people to live on the Moon or on other planets.
Such visions, as well as the prospect of long-term human space expeditions in the future, raise the question of how to sustainably provide food for the people in space. One possible answer is to cultivate crops in situ. However, the soils on the Moon and on other planets are surely lower in nutrients compared to our agricultural land. The alternative - transporting nutrient-rich soil and fertilizers up into space - comes with a high economic and ecological cost.
Plant-fungal symbiosis promotes plant growth
In return they get access to sugar and fat produced by the plant. This symbiosis is stimulated by hormones of the strigolactone family, which most plants secrete into the soil around their roots. The process of mycorrhization can greatly increase plant growth and thereby substantially improve crop yields - especially in soil that is low in nutrients.
Absence of gravity impedes mycorrhization
The experiments revealed that microgravity hindered the mycorrhization and thus reduced the petunias' uptake of nutrients from the soil. But the plant hormone strigolactone can counteract this negative effect.
Plants that secreted high levels of strigolactone and fungi which the researchers had treated with a synthetic strigolactone hormone were able to thrive in the low-nutrient soil despite the microgravity conditions.
Best practice for food production in space
"This seems to be possible using the strigolactone hormone. Our findings may therefore pave the way for the successful cultivation in space of the types of plants that we grow on Earth."
Champagne in space: Zero-G bottle lets tourists drink bubbly
Paris (AFP) Sept 12, 2018
Future space tourists may be able to toast the view from orbit with fine champagne, after designers came up with a high-tech bottle made for knocking back bubbly in zero gravity. The Mumm champagne house teamed up with designer Octave de Gaulle, who has specialised in conceiving of everyday objects for the final frontier, to develop the space-age bottles. Journalists from several countries will try the champagne on Wednesday during a flight taking off from the French city of Reims, in the heart ... read more
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