From research on plant stress resistance, healthy food and sustainable food production, to cellular food R&D or improving crop yield, microgravity can play a significant role. The space environment enables the development of new solutions and applications that will have impact both on our daily lives on Earth, as well as in future space exploration endeavors.
Microgravity can be used to probe and dissect biological mechanisms in plants for understanding how terrestrial plant biology responds to gravity. Growing plants in space leads to a better understanding of how gravotropism and phototropism in plants are affected. The symbiotic relationship between plants and bacteria can be explored as bacteria behave differently in microgravity and the changes in bacterial behaviour can enhance the symbiotic relationship between plant and microbe. Seed germination, plant growth, plant stem cells and long term gene expression can all be probed in microgravity. Microgravity can also be used as a mechanism to test a number of aspects of vertical agriculture.
When cells are cultured in microgravity, they form 3D structures and show an accelerated growth rate of cells. Hence the topic of cell culturing applied for food in cellular meat or diary is also of interest. And of course, from a space exploration perspective, cellular food production R&D is highly relevant.
Bacteria and yeasts produce different secondary metabolites when grown in low shear suspended conditions, as in space, producing novel flavours, pigments, antioxidants, enzymes, etc.
The process of crystal growth, known as crystallisation, benefits from microgravity due to the lack of sedimentation and convection which results in larger, nearly defect free crystals being grown on the ISS with associated unique characteristics and behaviours.
Foams are more stable in microgravity because they remain wet. Foam research in microgravity allows researchers to better understand the processes and calculate models in the most optimal conditions. This is leading to better production and assembly of products containing foams as well as more effective foam-suppression agents. Think of your chocolate mousse!
But also radiation instigated degradation on nutrients is highly relevant. Can we envisage genetic engineering for enhanced radiation resistance?
And imagine building food from scratch with a 3D food printer that could deliver starch, protein, and fat, creating edible structures. Other supplements of flavour and aroma or micronutrients could be delivered by inkjet technology…
Some of the highly relevant agrifoodtech topics benefitting from the microgravity environment.
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