Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Identify Biotech Techniques to Improve Space Agriculture

October 20, 2021

The Whole-Body Edible and Elite Plant (WBEEP) strategy was proposed by Chinese scientists for space crop improvement and help establish efficient space farming that is essential for humans to survive in space. The strategy involves several plant biotechnology techniques that include biofortification, increased yield, and enhancement of nutrient use by the plant.

WBEEP relies on plant biotechnology to develop crops with more edible parts, richer nutrient content, higher yields and higher mineral nutrient use efficiencies to enhance space farm production and management. The scientists initially proposed the strategy using the potato because of its simple horticultural and food processing requirements as well as its ability to develop normally during space flight. The crop can also be easily reproduced asexually.

The scientists made the following recommendations:

  • Introduction of solanine metabolism genes from the tomato to the potato to reduce solanine accumulation in the aerial parts (stems, leaves, berries) of the potato to make the whole plant edible.
  • Overexpression, relocation or mutation of bottleneck enzymes, silencing of undesired pathways, regulation of transcription factors and other techniques proven effective to develop biofortified crops for the improvement of the potato's synthesis of vitamins and functional secondary metabolites.
  • Improvement of the potato's yield through various techniques such as enhancing the regenerative capacity of the carbon reduction cycle, optimization of the electron transport chain, minimizing oxygenation and photorespiration, and other genetic engineering strategies that optimize photosynthesis currently being used for rice and tobacco research.
  • Genetic modification to enhance plant nutrient absorption, allocation and metabolism or to optimize root architecture to improve crop nutrient utilization efficiency and reduce fertilizer consumption, since the transporting fertilizers from Earth to space is expensive.

The scientists emphasized that the WBEEP approach could provide sufficient and nutritious food for humans in space with minimal fertilizer consumption.

Read the open-access article in Nature Communications.

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