Water spinach is a popular Asian green. The fast-growing plant has a high nutritional content, but it can grow to over three metres tall, which is considered much too large for typical vertical farms.
A new research project between UK vertical farming company Vertical Future and the P4S research centre aims to reduce the size of water spinach to enable cultivation within a vertical farm – both on Earth and further afield.
Contributing to human travel to Mars in 2040s
The P4S research centre, headed up by the University of Adelaide in Australia, is working towards providing nutritious foods and a supply of on-demand materials and medicines for future space explorers.
The project has a number of contributors around the globe, including 15 academic institutions, five space agencies and enablers, six education providers, seven and technology providers, and five controlled environment agriculture (CEA) companies, including Vertical Future.
The goal is to pursue long-term human presence in space, with the project contributing towards NASA’s Artemis accords, a space exploration mission which aims to develop the technologies required for humans to travel to Mars and return to earth in the 2040s.
“The mission of P4S is to re-imagine plant design and bioresource production, through the lens of space, to enable off-Earth habitation and provide transformative solutions to improve on-Earth sustainability,” said Matthew Gilliham, Professor of the University of Adelaide & Director of the new Centre of Excellence.
“P4S research will create the flexible, plant-based solutions needed to support human physical and psychological well-being during deep space travel and settlement. Work undertaken by experts from the Centre will also deliver a step change in plant efficiency, productivity, and processing technologies here on Earth.”
Approximately AUD90 million (€58m) has been provided in funding from the Australian government and P4S partners.
GM and non-GM water spinach under the microscope
Vertical Future is offering its expertise to the project with particular focus on the growth and development of properties associated with water spinach. The project aims to reduce the size of water spinach and finally control its nutritional parameters through the investigation of environmental conditions, growth regulator treatments and classic genetics.
Further, the project will work towards reducing the lifecycle time of water spinach to allow seed production in a shortened amount of time – this time with the use of gene-editing technologies.
Vertical Future believes the use of artificial intelligence and machine learnings, which it uses to automate its systems, will make for more efficient farming techniques here on Earth and elsewhere. “The P4S project will also help in boosting the UK and global economies by providing local food production and high-value careers in agriculture, engineering and technology,” noted the vertical farming company.
Jamie Burrows, CEO and founder of Vertical Future, said the company was ‘excited’ to collaborate in the P4S project to tackle the challenges faced by the vertical farming sector and the economy more broadly.
“Although focused on space exploration, many of the learnings from this project will be applicable here on Earth and will help contribute to global food security and nutrition.”