"All the World's a Stage We Pass Through" R. Ayana

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Giant Vegetables From Space

Giant Vegetables From Space


Pumpkins 10 times their normal size, 2lb tomatoes, 14lb aubergines, 9-inch chillies.. and all grown from seeds sent into orbit by China. But how safe are they?

They came from Outer Space... huge monsters never seen on Earth before. And they could soon be heading towards a supermarket near you...

These giant fruit and vegetables, grown from seeds sent into space, are now being grown in southern China where they are being heralded as a solution to the world's food shortage.

Fans hum amid the steamy heat in futuristic greenhouses as 15-stone pumpkins - 10 times their normal size - are supported on raised platforms.

Thick twine stop 160lb Chinese winter melons falling and crushing gardeners working below. Struggling for space are chilli plants the size of small trees with fiery 9in-long fruit which look more like exotic peppers.

Alongside are 14lb aubergines, 2lb tomatoes and 2ft cucumbers.

Futuristic white tubes stretch upwards sprouting huge kohlrabi cabbage and lettuce.

The Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Science, 50 miles from Guangzhou, could be the taste of things to come as China struggles to feed its 1.3billion population.

Vast farms are already being used to cultivate these crops as space fruit and vegetables are put on dinner tables across China. A total of 22 provinces are taking part in the programme, coordinated by the China Academy of Sciences.
While the West agonises over genetically-modified crops China is steaming ahead with its own answer to GM and they are not shy about exporting the produce.

Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia have all taken delivery of the super fruit and veg. European agricultural companies have also begun to show an interest in the technology, although none from Britain yet.

Chinese expert Lo Zhigang believes space seeds represent the future.

"Conventional agricultural development has taken us as far as we can go and demand for food from a growing population is endless.

"Space seeds offer the opportunity to grow fruit and vegetables bigger and faster."

The China Academy of Sciences, working with the then Soviet Union, first started looking at the benefits of growing seeds in space in 1987.

Then two years ago the Shijian-8, the first recoverable satellite designed solely to carry space seeds, was blasted into outer space on China's Long March rocket. On board were more than 2,000 seeds.

Scientists have yet to offer a definitive explanation of why space causes the seeds to mutate but they believe that cosmic radiation, micro-gravity and magnetic fields may play a part.


Mr Lo said: "After space travel the genetic sequence may change from 1,2,3,4 to 1,2,4,3 or a gene may even disappear so 1,2,3,4 becomes 1, 2, and 4.

"We don't think there is any threat to human health because the genes themselves do not mutate, just their sequence changes.

"With genetically-modified crops you have seen environmental problems because they have added genes that can damage other organisms.

"But with space seeds they don't gain genes, they can only lose them."

Once the seeds are returned from space they are cultivated and only fruit or vegetables that show improvements in size, taste or vitamin and mineral content are selected.

The seeds from these plants are then bred over at least another three generations to ensure they remain stable.

Chinese scientists claim some space fruit and veg are better than the original. The Vitamin C content in some vegetables is nearly three times higher and there is a marked increase in trace elements such as zinc. Yields of space rice are also 25 per cent higher.

Research also shows that certain space breeds use proportionately less water than their more traditional predecessors so they could be perfect for arid areas.

To date China has bred more than 50 new species of plants and has plans to produce more than 200 new species.

Mr Lo's government-owned Shenzhen Nongke Science and Technology Company also runs a public park called the Shenzhen Space Crops Park.

Here you can see space cabbage, space aubergines, space tomatoes and space sunflowers.

"A lot more space seed products are going to be coming on the market in the next two to three years, with sweet pepper, tomato and cucumber breeds on sale," said Mr Lo. "Some of China's space seed products are already exported to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan. These include breeds of cucumber, sweet pepper, tomatoes and broccoli."

Agricultural-scale production of space breeds has so far been restricted to huge state-owned farms in the more remote Chinese provinces such as Jiangsu and Shanxi.

But even the most slavish supporters of space seeds admit there are problems. Size doesn't guarantee quality and some breeds show a notable decline in taste, vitamin content and an increased sugar content.

But Mr Lo thinks the rise of space fruit is inevitable. "I believe that these seeds will be available for sale on the open market in the next couple of years.

"When they will be exported to Europe is another matter altogether. That could take some time, but when you are hungry who knows?"

'Veg has 3 times more Vitamin C'

By Adam Luck

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  1. forget about space seeds as I don't have means to send it in orbit I have grown this year broccoli from normal seeds they are size of cauliflower or cabbage about 300mm across yes I did use all organic materials and concoctions to achieve it.

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