Lucas van der Zee, PhD candidate at WUR:

"My mission is to grow fruit without the plant"

"Farming today is unsustainable, with its greenhouse-gas emissions and its destruction of wildlife habitats. Agriculture now takes up half of Earth's hospitable land surface at the expense of these habitats," says Lucas van der Zee.

"Developing sustainable food production will require multiple approaches. My PhD research at Wageningen University in the Netherlands is inspired by alternative, indoor methods of food production, such as farming leafy green vegetables vertically and growing meat in a laboratory. I wondered — if you can grow meat without an animal, can you grow fruit without a plant?"

"This could be done inside, which might help us to return some agricultural land to nature. During my master's program in agricultural engineering, I discussed indoor fruit production with my professor. He invited me to write a master's thesis on the subject of growing fruits without the plant. Now, we're testing this idea."

"The main task of my PhD is to collect immature fruit or flowers from tomato plants and try to grow the stems into healthy, high-quality tomatoes in the lab. Ultimately, we want to produce fruit from tomato meristem cells — undifferentiated cells from which new plant organs can grow — and skip using a plant entirely."

"The jars in this photo contain some of the early results of my research when I was testing different growing conditions at different stages of tomato development. The lighting is an energy-efficiency measure; we use blue and red LEDs, the best colors for photosynthesis."


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