Biologists have discovered a new way to grow food without the need for sunshine

By: April Carson



Although photosynthesis may be considered one of nature's great powers, it is surprisingly inefficient, with only 1% of the energy in sunlight reaching the plant's interior. This has long been a problem for farmers and gardeners who would like to grow food indoors, without the need for sunlight.


Now, researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Delaware have announced that they've discovered a technique to sidestep natural photosynthesis and produce food without sunshine using artificial photosynthesis, according to a press release.


Researchers in Nature Food used a two-step electrocatalytic technique to produce acetate, the major component in vinegar, by transforming carbon dioxide, electricity, and water using a two-step electrocatalytic process.


After that, they used the acetate on food-producing organisms in the dark, causing them to flourish. Their technique may be a valuable source of nourishment if a severe climate calamity strikes.


"Our technique could provide a new way to produce food in the event of a natural disaster or during space exploration missions," said study author Tom Moore in the release. "It also has potential implications for food security, as it could be used to grow crops in locations where there is little or no sunlight."


Artificial Photosynthesis


Although the UC Riverside researchers acknowledge that their technique requires no sunlight, they do add that it may be utilized effectively with renewable solar power. They claim that they can use solar panels to generate electricity for the electrolysis, which would improve the conversion efficiency of sunlight into food by up to 18 times compared to current foods.


Solar energy is a type of renewable energy that does not require the Sun's rays, and it can also be produced using different technologies. Solar panels are devices that convert sunlight into electricity, and they are often used in solar power plants. Solar cells are also devices that convert sunlight into electricity, but they are smaller and more efficient than solar panels. Solar energy can be used to generate electricity, to heat water or air, or to produce steam for industrial applications.


With our technique, we aimed to develop a new method of feeding that would overcome the restrictions imposed by biological photosynthesis, according to corresponding author Robert Jinkerson of the University of California at Riverside's chemical and environmental engineering department.


The researchers discovered that a wide range of meals might be manufactured in the dark using their approach, including green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium, which generates mushrooms. According to their findings, yeast production using their method is 18 times more energy-efficient than conventional corn sugar extraction.



To produce food in the dark, the team employed a method called microbial electrosynthesis. This is where bacteria are used to convert carbon dioxide and water into biomass by using electrons from an external electrode as an energy source.


"We were able to produce food-producing organisms without using any inputs from biological photosynthesis," said Elizabeth Hann, a doctoral candidate in the Jinkerson Lab and co-lead author of the study. "These creatures are usually cultivated on carbohydrates produced by plants or inputs obtained from petroleum—which is a type of biological photosynthesis that occurred millions of years ago. This technology is more effective than food production reliant on biological photosynthesis because it converts solar energy into food with greater efficiency," she added.


Important food production alternatives are required during the space age and climate change


The researchers further improved their electrolyzer to produce the greatest amounts of acetate ever recorded in an electrolyzer. Furthermore, they discovered that crop plants including cowpea, tomato, rice, green pea, and tobacco all have the potential to be cultivated using carbon from acetate. Acetate may even improve agricultural yields; however, more study is needed.


This new development provides an innovative way to sustainably agriculture and food production on Earth, as well as in space. With the challenges of climate change and dwindling resources, this research could not be more timely.


"The need for sustainable sources of food is one of the most pressing issues facing humanity today," said study co-author Dr. Elliot M. Meyerowitz, the George W. Goethals Professor of Biology in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech. "This discovery provides a potential solution to that problem."


By limiting how much sunlight a plant receives, scientists think that artificial photosynthesis may be a viable option for food production in the future as the planet adjusts to the worst effects of climate change – dry spells, flooding, and restricted land availability. "Artificial photosynthesis approaches to food production might be a paradigm shift in how we feed people. By increasing the efficiency of agricultural production, land consumption is reduced, reducing the environmental effect of agriculture. And for non-traditional environments, such as outer space, enhanced energy efficiency may assist feed more crew members with less input usage," Jinkerson added.


The UC Riverside team was the inaugural winner in NASA's Deep Space Food Challenge, which is a Phase I competition. "Imagine if future Martians grew tomato plants in space—how much easier would it be?" asks co-author Martha Orozco-Cárdenas. "This research could make it possible."


The technology is not limited to space exploration. The closed environment of an airplane cabin presents a unique set of challenges for food production, and the team believes that their technology could have applications here as well. "We are currently working on adapting this technology for use in aircrafts," said Jinkerson. "By using advances in LED lighting, sensors and data analytics, we can develop a system that will allow on-board agriculture, reducing the need for food to be transported long distances."


The team's research was published in the journal Nature Communications.










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About the Blogger:


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com


To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav


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