Speed breeding crops inspired by NASA grow ultra-fast

More than ten years ago, NASA research looked into the idea of increasing the rate of crop production, and now researchers have used that as inspiration for technology that achieves such a goal. Called “speed breeding,” the research involves a method for causing crops to grow at a much faster rate than they would out in a field, bringing food to the market more quickly…or to astronauts that rely on it on a far away planet.

The speed breeding project is the work of researchers with the University of Queensland, University of Sydney, and the John Innes Centre. NASA was first interested in so-called speed breeding as a way to grow crops quickly to ensure that astronauts on long-term missions on other planets have access to food. This is particularly important under NASA’s plan to get people on Mars.

This latest research builds upon that, using cheap LEDs operating continuously to boost photosynthesis using certain wavelengths. These crops were grown indoors, but at rates faster than traditional greenhouse growth. Whereas a greenhouse could produce a couple generations of certain crops like canola and wheat in a single year, the researchers’ setup was able to produce half a dozen generations of these plants in a year.

The successful results were seen with barley, wheat, chickpea, and canola. These are vital crops in markets around the world, being responsible for oils, flours, beans, and more. In addition, the researchers found that their growing success also translates well to radishes, peanuts, and sunflower.

Whereas other methods to rapidly grow crops usually result in small, stunted plants, these plants are reported as being robust and healthy, more so than the plants produced using ordinary conditions.

While rapid growth is of interest to NASA, such a development holds promise across a variety of situations and industries. Researchers working on plant genetics could more quickly cycle through plant generations, for example, arriving at their conclusions at a faster rate. As well, faster crop growth means an increased ability to feed the world’s growing population.

SOURCE: Nature, News Atlas