Thanks to Seppe Salari (who is now working on his startup Smart Crops), the Astroplant kit has a good biological basis and productive hydroponic system. Now it’s time to take the next step and start work on how to use the kit and try to get the most out of it.
That’s where I have come in, as the new AstroPlant biologist. I am focusing on writing a protocol with good scientific basis for how to use the Astroplant kit, grow the plants and harvest the knowledge.
But before the kits and protocols can be used, a though choice had to be made: which species do we use for our experiments? Some grow fast, others slow, some are scientifically more interesting, others react more vividly in experiments. Luckily, ESA has provided us with useful data on the performance of their ‘target crops’ to make a selection of multiple species that would work best. Useful species grow well in hydroponic system, are nutritious and remain small in size. (So no fruit trees yet, although some interesting progress has been made with prunes.)
For now we have selected bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), soybean (Glycine max) and basil (Ocimum basilicum). Wheat and soybean are important staple crops with good nutritional value for ESA’s MELiSSA program. Basil on the other hand grows a lot faster and is more responsive to the environment. Starting out with a small herb like basil allows us to help evaluate the kit and the protocols.
Adapted from: Carvalho et al. (2016) Light Quality Dependent Changes in Morphology, Antioxidant Capacity, and Volatile Production in Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum). Front. Plant Sci. 7:1328. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.01328
Selecting just a few species to focus on will give more reliable scientific information, although of course the Astroplant kit can always be repurposed or adapted for new kinds of growth experiments by users.
When the main protocol is finished, we will also be developing new optional experimental protocols for the users. These will be tailor-made to show and investigate several remarkable adaptations of plants to changes in their environment. Let me know if you want to be involved!