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Seeds in Space: A Hope for Sustainability

The first phase of the joint FAO-AIEA experiment will end in early April, with the return of the shuttle

There is great expectation and hope around the agrarian-space experiment conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fact, the shuttle with the seeds sent into space four months ago should return by early April. "The ground-breaking experiment aims to develop new crops that can adapt to climate change and help boost global food security - recalls a note from the FAO -. With the world's population estimated to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, there's a clear need for innovative solutions through science and technology aimed at producing more food, as well as crops that are more resilient and farming methods that are more sustainable".

Seeds from the IAEA and FAO laboratories belonging to the Arabidopsis and Sorghum varieties travelled in an uncrewed cargo shuttle from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to space on November 7, 2022. While in space, they were exposed to the prevailing conditions — a complex mixture of cosmic radiation, microgravity and extreme temperatures — inside and outside the International Space Station (ISS).

Upon their return, which is expected to happen in early April, scientists at the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture plan to grow the seeds and screen them for useful traits to better understand space-induced mutations and identify new varieties.

During a conference in Vienna, the two organizations took stock of the situation on the experiment, illustrating to insiders the impact of space science and nuclear techniques on the genetic improvement of plants. “I am in awe of the resilience of nature, and excited by the endless benefits that space exploration can bring to transform our agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable across the globe”, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said at the meeting in Vienna. Also speaking at the event was IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who said: "This is science that could have a real impact on people’s lives in the not-too-distant future, by helping us grow stronger crops and feed more people".

"IAEA and FAO scientists - added Grossi - may have already been mutating seeds for 60 years and creating thousands of stronger crops for the world to use, but this is the first time we have experimented with such an exciting field as astrobiology".

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EFA News - European Food Agency