Scientists are growing seeds in space to help adapt to climate change on Earth

Plants naturally adapt to grow in challenging environments. Spontaneous natural mutations produce new traits, such as drought tolerance and disease resistance, which can help the plant to thrive. But the Earth’s climate is changing faster than plants can naturally evolve, meaning that many of the plants we rely on for food are under threat.

Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of changing climate conditions, and although changes to temperature, rainfall patterns, and frost might extend a growing season or enable the cultivation of different crops, climate change also introduces major challenges for farming.

Now, scientists are turning to the vastness of space for solutions.

Space seeds
In 2022, the joint laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sent seeds on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). The objective is to induce genetic mutations in the seeds through exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity that could help develop resilient crops capable of thriving in the face of the escalating climate crisis.

Seeds of a cereal grain called sorghum, and a type of cress called Arabidopsis, spent several months on the ISS before they were returned to Earth this April for analysis. Now screening will begin to identify favorable traits in the mutated seeds.


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