Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Does this work?

Paging Plant Master Flash...

Agen├že France-Presse: Super-plants from outer space:

China plans to blast seeds into space in a novel way of boosting the nation's food production, reports say.

Scientists hope that exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity will cause genetic mutations in the seeds that will improve crop yield back on Earth...

..."Exposed to special environments such as cosmic radiation and microgravity, some seeds will mutate to such an extent that they may produce much higher yields and improved quality," the paper says.

Nine categories of seeds, including grains, cash crops and forage plants will be aboard the satellite, it says.

China has been experimenting with space-bred seeds for years, with rice and wheat exposed to the universe resulting in increased yields, the paper says.

Space-bred tomato and green pepper seeds have resulted in harvests 10-20% larger than ordinary seeds, while vegetables grown from space-bred seeds have a higher vitamin content, it adds.

Flash, this is totally your area of expertise. So does this actually work the way the say it does, or has the nation of China as a collective whole read that worn-out copy of Fantastic Four #1 too many times?


At 30 August, 2006 14:09, Anonymous Plant Master Flash said...

Um, dude. I'm not sure who, but someone is definitely cookin' the books on a number of counts.

1) Yeah, you could theoretically get interesting mutations in your seeds by shooting them into space, but we have far cheaper ways of doing that on earth. See, for example, ANY PAPER EVER involving random mutagenesis in plants. From what I've found it seems that they are the first people to actually bother looking at mutants showing improvements and breeding them together (as opposed to doing lots and lots of research on what the mutation is, which usually happens anywhere in the world where the proportion of the population starving to death is sufficiently small). However, we good biologists all know that most mutations are lethal, so it's not like every seed exposed results in a super-plant.

2) To my knowledge, there has not been a "space-bred plant" ever. Certainly not from China, since they've only started their manned spaceflight program. And it sure as hell isn't NASA, unless you count seed-to-seed plant growth experiments (which hardly counts as true breeding since no selection is taking place). The ESA could possibly be doing something in this area, but I'm pretty sure I'd have heard about it by now.

Near as I can tell (after doing google/scirus searches) it seems that the term "space bred" originally was something of a mistranslation from the original Chinese. "Space grown" or "space treated" would be more accurate. Here is a quick link from some Chinese site on the peppers and tomatoes. I'm sure you can do more searches on your own.

3) I was also going to say something about crop yields being dramatically increased (think 10 fold or more) when grown under controlled environment conditions relative to being grown out in the field. It turns out this is not what was going on here (the world-record harvest of rice bred from three strains mutated by space exposure did happen under field conditions), but it was a worthy guess before I had more info.

At 30 August, 2006 15:11, Blogger The Neurophile said...

Sure I could look up lots of things, but that would involve effort!

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