Cosmic exposure of crops can lead to benefits for food security on Earth

January 12, 2023 – Seeds of Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used in genetic experiments, and sorghum, a nutritious grain used for human consumption and animal feed, are exposed on and off the International Space Station (ISS) for three months to conditions in space such as microgravity and cosmic radiation.

The seeds of Arabidopsis and sorghum were chosen because there was already a large bank of genetic knowledge to prepare for analysis and comparison.

Arabidopsis has been studied extensively by botanists and geneticists. Meanwhile, sorghum is a crop from the semi-arid tropics, and it is a grain grown in many developing countries for food.

The latest round of analyzes will help understand whether cosmic radiation and space conditions have a uniquely valuable effect on crop improvement and can benefit people on Earth.

Seeds launched into space last November They are now placed inside and outside the International Space Station to display the full range of cosmic radiation and temperature extremes.

Exploring the effects of cosmic radiation
This botany investigation, an undertaking of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), aims to explore the effects of cosmic radiation on seeds as part of research into strengthening crop varieties to withstand the impact of climate change and increase food security. Global.

The latest round of analyzes will help understand whether cosmic radiation and space conditions have a uniquely valuable effect on crop improvement and can benefit people on Earth.The goal is to determine whether the extreme conditions of space, such as extreme temperatures and cosmic radiation, will lead to evolutionary changes in seeds and, in turn, whether these changes can help plants become more resilient in the face of increasingly difficult growing conditions on Earth.

“It is our responsibility to explore nuclear technologies that can make a positive difference to human health and the food supply,” says Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director-General and Head of Nuclear Science and Applications.

“As the world struggles to adapt to the consequences of climate change, it is critical to accelerate plant breeding research to find suitable and cost-effective solutions.”

“More research and development is needed by smallholder food producers who are most vulnerable to climate change,” explains FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.

She believes that increasingly harsh growing conditions threaten food production, a situation that FAO hopes space science can help change by encouraging the development of resilient and nutritious crop varieties.

Cosmic radiation in plant breeding
Spontaneous mutations that arise from exposure to different environmental conditions are the foundations of evolution in all living organisms. The IAEA and FAO, through the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, have a long history of supporting countries in creating new crop varieties with desirable traits through radiation-induced mutagenesis techniques, improving food and nutrition security and farmers’ incomes.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Center, based in Vienna, Austria, has been accelerating plant breeding research using radiation to develop new agricultural crop varieties for nearly 60 years.

In the history of plant cultivation, natural selection or evolutionary breeding, also known as mutation breeding, has been the engine for the domestication of crops and plant breeding.

They are responsible for the genetic adaptation of plants to their changing environments and lead to improved yields. To date, more than 3,400 new varieties have been developed from more than 210 plant species using genetic variations resulting from radiation and mutational breeding – including many food crops, ornamental plants and trees used by farmers in 70 countries.

When the seeds return from space, currently expected in April 2023, they will be germinated and grown in IAEA greenhouses and laboratories in Seibersdorf, run by the Joint FAO/IAEA Center, examining DNA structural changes and biological effects.

Arabidopsis and sorghum seeds were launched into space from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, United States, on November 7, 2022, as part of the cargo payload for the CRS2 NG-18 mission to the International Space Station.

On December 13, half of the seeds were transferred to the ISS Nanoracks offshore platform. The other half was kept inside the International Space Station for comparison, where it was mainly exposed to microgravity and some levels of radiation.

Edited by Elizabeth Green

To contact our editorial team, please email us at

If you find this article valuable, you may want to receive our newsletters.
Subscribe now to receive the latest news straight to your inbox.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *