Before embarking on long-term space travel, people need to learn how to grow food right in space, according to scientists from the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of China.
However, modern crops are not profitable and productive enough for use on space farms. Experts propose a strategy for growing completely edible plants based on advances in biotechnology.
Potatoes are the most favorable crop for space farming. It has the following advantages:
- high yield of tubers, rich in carbohydrates, capable of providing a large amount of energy for humans;
- ease of cultivation on space farms;
- the possibility of normal development of plants during space flight.
In addition, potatoes can reproduce both sexually (by seeds) and vegetatively (using tubers). Chinese botanists formulated the concept of WBEEP, according to which a number of new ones must be added to these advantages, and for this it is necessary:
- suppress genes responsible for the accumulation of solanine to make edible tops. Solanine, which protects the plant from parasites and diseases, makes the stems, leaves and fruits of potatoes poisonous to humans. Alternatively, potatoes can be implanted with genes from its relative, tomato, which also accumulates solanine, but converts it into an edible substance in the fruit.
- make potatoes produce more vitamins and nutrients. It is proposed to do this by changing the metabolism of the plant, which will force them to consume more raw materials and more economically use the produced chemical elements for their own needs.
- to enhance the growth of tubers. First of all, this can be done by optimizing photosynthesis and transport of substances from leaves to roots, since it is the formation of tubers that absorbs the greatest amount of solar energy. Something similar has been done previously for rice and tobacco, and scientists hope to repeat this for potatoes.
- to increase the susceptibility to fertilizers. Plants need many chemical elements for growth, first of all, nitrogen and phosphorus, and potatoes also need potassium. The need to supply these fertilizers from the Earth can be reduced by modifying the roots and optimizing their chemical consumption.
Although in the space industry the practical need for WBEEP will not appear soon, scientists propose to develop a similar plant now, since it may be useful for growing crops on Earth.