By: Anders Ekergård
Short, if I Myers can make posts about his carnivorous plants, I think I can share my experiment with hydroponics and unusual leafy vegetables before I move on to the main topic. The smaller plant is purslane and the leaf in the foreground belongs to shiso *. It's really interesting, hydroponics is growing without soil, and the experiment was inspired by the book The taste of tomorrow by Josh Schonwald, both crops are mentioned in the book. I’m curious about tomorrows food. It goes without saying that the questions what we will eat in the future, and how we will produce it are two of the biggest questions of the 21-century - well, any century really. And here hydroponics might play a role, perhaps used to grow plants we aren’t used to today, like purslane.
Purslane is actually particularly interesting, not only because it is described as very healthy – omega-3 fatty acids like in fish, more beta carotene than in carrots, etc. – purslane is also a C4 plant and the rest of this post will be about a lecture I have been to. A lecture with german rechercher Andreas Weber about the possibility of genetically engineer, for example, rice from a C3 plant to just a C4 plant. Something that is the goal of the international project C4 rice. And above all, why it, if not will solve the problem of dwindling resources and increasing population, in any case, would be part of the solution. See it all comes together,
The purpose of this post isn’t to describe how C4 plants differ from the usual C3 plants, but in brief, C4 plants have added an extra step in photosynthesis, namely a carbon dioxide pump. This makes them more effective in hot climates. This explains why a field with C4 plant corn in the Philippines may be almost twice as productive as an adjacent field with the C3 plant rice. That corn is a C4 plant, you learn from Michael Pollan’s books about the American food system, any reader of his books remember how much emphasis he puts on corn, that a cornfield in Iowa is enormously productive. And C4 photosynthesis partially explains this enormous productivity, perhaps it also explains why the return from the world’s cornfield is still increasing, while the return from the field with the C3 plants wheat and rice are at a standstill.
later in the lecture Andreas Weber mentioned that C4 plants are not only more productive, they’re also better at using water, nitrogen and phosphorus. Fresh water is a scarce commodity in many parts of the world, nitrogen comes from the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process and phosphorus is mined and is a finite resource. I know that GMOs are controversial, many have strong feelings against it, but can you for a moment forget all scaremongering you’ve heard about GMO, disregard everything Greenpeace has said, forget the word Monsanto. 2050 we will be nine billion people. People who will be richer than we are today and who will demand better food, more meat. At the same time, we will have less arable land available, this is because we’re building on arable land. Plus, the resources available for agriculture is expected to decline. Question: A method of increasing plant yield and reduce their resource needs, does it really sounds like a bad idea?
There are several potential methods to feed nine billion people. Eating algae and insects, for example, might be a good alternative, fish farming is a source of protein that has quickly become widespread, long-term, in vitro meat might be on the market and don’t forget hydroponics. However, new crops can also be part of the solution. And that includes not only crops with increased yields, we also have the ability to use genetic engineering to increase crop nutrition. The last is demonstrated by projects like golden rice, or the similar project to increase the nutritional value of cassava (both projects are like C4 rice sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation ).
* English name beefsteak plant, latin: perilla frutescens, but I guess the Japanese name is more popular. (That said, it’s fun to imagine that South Korea’s potential new position as the hip Asian country will allow us to use the Korean name: so-yeop – thanks wikipedia).