Study: China Blasts Seeds Into Space
(NewsCore) – Chinese scientists claim to have created a range of so-called super crops by blasting seeds into space so their genes are mutated by cosmic radiation.
Giant cucumbers and tomatoes — along with fast-growing sesame, cotton and even white lotus and chrysanthemum flowers — were produced by the technique, according to a study published by Chinese government researchers.
If its success can be confirmed, space agriculture could have the potential to rival earthbound genetic modification, a laboratory-based technique that is effective but expensive, as a means of producing new breeds of high-yield crops.
“China’s fruitful achievements have proved that real space agriculture is no longer a dream because it is a reality now,” Professor Li Chengzhi, of Beijing’s Beihang University, said in a study published in the journal Space Policy.
The bold claims, however, are being treated with caution. Chinese science is far less open than in Western countries, and, as is common in China, Li and his colleagues have not published supporting data.
The basic principle that radiation can cause mutations, some of which may be beneficial, is well known, and Western scientists also have used it to try to create new strains.
Li said, “China has initiated a new space industry with its own characteristics — ‘space breeding.’ Crop breeding in space, or spaceflight mutation breeding, is a technology in which crop seeds are carried by recoverable satellites into space and back to Earth. While in space, the seeds undergo a process of mutation so better crops can be produced back on Earth.”
China’s interest in space crops dates back to 1987, but its first breakthrough came in 1999 with a new strain of fast-growing space rice, Hangyu 1, which is now planted on more than 400,000 acres (161,874 hectares).
Since then, similar techniques have been applied to more crops — including wheat, fruit and vegetables such as giant green peppers and cucumbers. Many were developed from seeds flown in the Shijian-8 satellite, which was packed with seeds and spent 15 days in orbit around Earth in 2006.
“The research institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences succeeded in cultivating a new type of cucumber with a higher yield, better taste and bigger fruit,” Li said. “Some 90,000 kilograms [198,416 pounds] of cucumber can be produced from each hectare [2.5 acres], a 20 percent higher yield. The biggest cucumber can weigh 1.5 kilograms [3.3 pounds]. Space-bred cherries and tomatoes have a high sugar content of 13 percent, comparable with that of oranges. They also taste good.”
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