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Essex University adds on-site R&D facility worth £3m

A new laboratory where researchers aim to develop climate-resilient plants to ensure food security has been built at a UK university. The £3m facility at the University of Essex has an indoor field replicating real environments across the globe and suites that imitate a warming world. Biologist professor Tracy Lawson said the university was in a unique position to be able to "grow and select plants for tomorrow's atmosphere today".

It will be officially opened later. Researchers would be able to adjust carbon dioxide concentration and temperature levels inside the adjustable suites, the university said. The facility in Colchester was built with a vertical farm and computer plant-scanning technology would also be used to monitor plants as they grew.

Research at the center, called the Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (Steps), would have artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics helping to develop new ideas, technologies and strategies to predict how agriculture and the natural world are changing.

"This lab will put us at the forefront of research into how we can help plants change and adapt to climate change, helping secure everyone's future," Prof Lawson said. "This state-of-the-art facility will help the world cope with a growing population by ensuring future food security by developing climate-resilient plants."

The university said it was the first in the UK to have a commercial standard vertical farm, where crops are grown indoors layer upon layer, and that the lab was the only one in the country to combine all the facilities. It was funded in part by grant-giving organization the Wolfson Foundation, which pledged £1m.

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