NASA Inspired Speed Breeding Technique May Help Feed Earth's Burgeoning Population

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Image Credit: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Experts estimate that by the year 2050, the world’s population will swell from the current 7.3 billion to over 9.5 billion, with just nine countries accounting for half the growth. If accurate, conventional farming methods, which revolve around growing one or two crops annually, will be unable to sustain the increase in food demand. Now, some Australian scientists may have found a way to cost-effectively accelerate crop yields with a technique called speed breeding, inspired by NASA’s experiments to grow wheat in space.

The team of researchers from University of Queensland’s Jonn Innes Center and the University of Sydney began by planting a variety of crops such as wheat, barley, peas, chickpeas, and canola, in a modified, temperature-controlled glasshouse. The crops were then exposed to intense LED lights — beamed at specific frequencies up to 22 hours a day — to help accelerate photosynthesis.

Photo Credit: University of Queensland

The results, published in the journal Nature on January 1, 2018, exceeded all expectations. The scientists say they were able to grow six generations of wheat, chickpea, and barley plants and four generations of canola plants within a year. In contrast, conventional greenhouses yield just two to three, while outdoor farming produces just one yield a year. The researchers were also able to successfully speed breed peanuts, amaranth, and lentils and believe the technique will work for crops like sunflowers, peppers, and radishes as well.

Even more exciting is that when they compared the plant features, such as the number of tillers, or lateral branches, and grains per spike, they found the crops were much better quality than those grown under standard greenhouse conditions. "People said you may be able to cycle plants fast, but they will look tiny and insignificant, and only set a few seed," said study lead author Brande Wulff. "In fact, the new technology creates plants that look better and are healthier than those using standard conditions.”

Team leader Brande Wuff examining the crop. (Photo Credit: University of Queensland)

Though the technology has thus far been primarily tested only in the lab, it is gradually making its way to industry. Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of US-based Dow Chemical Company, has successfully used speed breeding to grow a wheat variety that is more resistant to pre-harvest sprouting, a significant problem in Australia. The scientists believe the technique could also be useful in vertical farming systems, which are becoming increasingly popular. Wulff says, "I would like to think that in 10 years from now you, could walk into a field and point to plants whose attributes and traits were developed using this technology.”


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  1. What will the world population be in 2050?
  2. How many countries will be responsible for half the growth?

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The scientists say they were able to grow six generations of wheat, chickpea and barley plants and four of canola plants within a year. 

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  • Emoji 😬😲😧😯😰Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 5:31 pm
    Do we humans have to genetically motify everything? The answer is NO!!! People are already allergic to wheat, now they want to make it so none can eat it? Have they checked if there are any in our system when we eat it? I hope they did.
    • apersonwhoknows
      apersonwhoknowsMonday, April 9, 2018 at 4:33 pm
      please be more specific because they have not made any genetic or chemical changes to these plants. Plus GMO wheat was never commercialized so how do people get allergic reactions to something that couldn't have been legally sold or obtained?
    • galatea
      galateaSunday, April 8, 2018 at 2:16 pm
      that's cool!
      • Jessica ferrisSunday, April 8, 2018 at 12:21 pm
        Love to got minty me
        • SauronSunday, April 8, 2018 at 11:32 am
          This will help food today and in the future
          • bean_boy
            bean_boySunday, April 8, 2018 at 7:59 am
            This is both good and bad for the environment. Short term it could be great but long term... that's a different story. Overall science has brought us a long way.
            • apersonwhoknows
              apersonwhoknowsSunday, April 8, 2018 at 5:11 pm
              There is no long term problem if done right. (Which will probably be the result so don't go around making people fearful)
            • beachbreeze13
              beachbreeze13Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 6:30 am
              Wow!!! This is such amazing research!
              • grapefruit
                grapefruitSunday, April 8, 2018 at 4:35 am
                interesting, but don't people think it's unnatural? Like, we got the whole world figured out and now we're changing the way it works?
                • apersonwhoknows
                  apersonwhoknowsMonday, April 9, 2018 at 4:35 pm
                  It is perfectly natural we are taking a process that is perfectly normal (Photosynthesis) and saying, "hey wouldn't it be better if plants could do this longer?" So far it seems these normal plants like it alot! :D
                • JustaMeSaturday, April 7, 2018 at 9:20 pm
                  Yikes! This means more dangerous frankenfood products are heading our way. This is not good for the environment. This supposes that humans will increase in such numbers as to need more science involved in a process that nature created and cannot truly be replicated. And they will invariably charge more for 'fresh products' as the overwhelming majority of folks will be given processed chemicals only masquerading as food (ie: "pizza rolls") with zero nutritional value and no health benefit. keeping us just ‘living’ in bodies that are besieged by illness. Illnesses that had not existed before the takeover of our diets by the very large and intertwined businesses of food and 'medicine'. The pharmaceutical industry generates $86 billion dollars, per year. No, this is going to be a bad thing all around. :-(
                  • apersonwhoknows
                    apersonwhoknowsSunday, April 8, 2018 at 4:47 pm
                    It is nice to see you are putting a lot of care on this subject, but the truth is you shouldn't be worried. The only scientific manipulation to these foods are the design of a "perfect" place for them to grow. They haven't changed these plants they have maximized their efficiency of growing. If anything this form of growing can help weed out (ignore the pun) bad genes and make generally good plants. Also science can replicate mostly all natural processes (Except the making of a fusion on a scale like the sun). Though it is smart to know what people do to make our foods I can guarantee foods will not become devoid of nutrients, but in fact the opposite will happen just look at golden rice. Yes you are indeed right when it comes to things like illness, but thats why plants that are "Changed" are always tested in labs for these problems before commercialization. The field of combining food and medical substances are very important for our future too! It makes important medicines easy to get which then makes them cheaper (Can also be easier to consume and alter). P.S. Bodies do require some form of health benefit so making us slaves to empty foods are almost impossible. I hope this makes you feel a bit more optimistic of the future (I sure am). Even if this does not sway ones opinion just live now in the present and do what you find fulfilling. Yours Truly, A Person Who Knows
                  • yoyo10Saturday, April 7, 2018 at 6:16 pm
                    yo this is awesome
                    • snail07
                      snail07Saturday, April 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm
                      This is super cool... just like how I get to be the first comment. First time! ;)
                      • epicguy100
                        epicguy100Saturday, April 7, 2018 at 11:50 pm
                        13th actually :(

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