Scientists Can Now Grow Plants Without Sunlight


| LAST UPDATE 07/10/2022

By Stanley Wickens
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Photosynthesis: the fundamental process every plant can do in order to grow. But although many of us were taught that it takes water, air, and sunlight for plants to complete this process, a new study suggests that may not be the case...

A team of researchers has succeeded in dramatically increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis while leaving out one of the procedure's most essential ingredients. In a two-step process, the team first used an electrocatalytic process to produce acetate, the main component of vinegar, from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. The acetate was then consumed by food-producing organisms, which would allow it to grow in total darkness. "We were able to grow food-producing organisms without any contributions from biological photosynthesis. Typically, these organisms are cultivated on sugars derived from plants or inputs derived from petroleum – which is a product of biological photosynthesis that took place millions of years ago," shared Elizabeth Hann, a doctoral candidate at UC Riverside and co-lead author of the study.

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The team discovered that yeast had a sunlight-to-food conversion efficiency 18 times higher when solar panels were used to produce electricity. They reported that growing algae using this method was four times more efficient. "This technology is a more efficient method of turning solar energy into food, as compared to food production that relies on biological photosynthesis," said Hann. The researchers found that Black-eyed peas, tomatoes, tobacco, rice, canola, and green peas successfully utilized carbon from acetate in the dark. They also tested the new procedure on fungal mycelium that produces mushrooms.

"With our approach, we sought to identify a new way of producing food that could break through the limits normally imposed by biological photosynthesis," said corresponding author Robert Jinkerson, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside. Thanks to the team's discovery, we have opened the door to growing food without the use of the sun's rays - not only on Earth, but possibly even in space as well. Will we ever see it happen? Guess only time will tell...

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