Written by: Emmanuel G Escobar, Project Leader
While the research group was formed in early 2019, Seanasol was founded on December 13, 2017. Towards the end my PhD, I wanted to form a plant science research company, but did not know what to call it. With my experience in science communication, I knew the importance of a name and so any progress in establishing the initiative kept being delayed. So I decided to sleep on it.
I remember waking up and thinking about the origins of the seed. Strange I thought; I worked on understanding how to maximise the productivity of crops, but what about the seed? To overcome bad germination rates, we simply sow more seeds; increase our chances by using more. I never thought about it, because I had stock to spare, but what if my seed stocks were limited? This is when I identified that our practices could always be improved. I also realised that I wanted to focus my research on the seed and maximise the potential of every individual seed.
Since I was little I wanted to create a super-plant that would grow faster than any other plants. How this would solve problems, I thought. But now I realise that for a plant to grow fast, it must be supplied with all its vital nutrients. Even if we could one day engineer that super-plant, it may be limited by the resources available for it to grow quickly. And even if it does grow quickly, it does not guarantee that it will produce viable seeds. When we think about sustainable agriculture, we are not thinking of just now this moment, but about future of the plants that are grown and the seeds that are harvested from them. It’s the plants that take the step forward, but the technology and our farming practices must evolve too.
“The question is not to ask how will plants grow in outer space, but ask how can we ensure plants will grow in space like we expect them to?”
Space does not only represent that giant, infinitely expanding bubble that surrounds us, but also all the unknowns of whether life could exist outside our planet. For some of us, space exploration helps answer that question and equally assesses whether we could one day inhabit other planets. I imagine it as living in a small, bedroom size, spherical capsule with a super computer, a few mechanically powered appliances and an exercise machine, like a treadmill, that does not only keep our bodies fit, but can generate electricity to power our devices. To power cities, there would be ways to harness the natural resources on that planet, much like wind turbines.
For these technologies to be built and maintained, humans living in these conditions must be well fed and healthy. And yes, with science, we can make great things like lab-grown foods, but there’s one major aspect of being human that we must not leave behind by moving to another planet. And that is that we evolved as we are today because of an ability in our ancestors to grow crops. And we must not forget the importance of plants. In part, they generate the food that we depend on as a population, but they also generate the oxygen that we breathe. Fully replacing plants with technology and science is not the answer to establishing a human presence on other planets. It might be a way to sustain us after the initial introduction, but we must learn to build that community the same way we built those on earth. In this regard, the question is not to ask how will plants grow in outer space, but ask how can we ensure plants will grow in space like we expect them to?
“When we all move to Mars, everyone will be a farmer”.
As for the trained few that will populate such planets, I think it will be possible for them to adapt. For everyone else, it will take several generations to fully reprogram the human body and its requirements for surviving in such conditions, and while I don’t doubt the capabilities of the human, success might be in the hundreds (of candidates) within the next 100 years. What we need are technologies that facilitate the transition into other planets, not for individuals, but populations.
At Seanasol, we offer long term agricultural solutions for investing in space exploration and expansion. We aim to develop self-sustaining farming technologies that will enable the production of crops on other planets using less land area and natural resources. But we don’t stop there; we bring innovation to the infrastructure of farming with solutions designed with ease of transport in mind. This means that sending our materials to space would be more cost-efficient and other materials or fuel can be loaded on rocket modules instead. One day there may be large controlled environment farms in space, but individuals could also have their own gardens and grow their own crops. Yes, when we all move to Mars, everyone will be a farmer. We must simply remember that with limited space and resources, it will be a great challenge to allocate their use effectively.
The Roots of Seanasol
Seanasol is derived from “sēaną” the Proto-Germanic word for “sow”. This also is an acronym for scientific, engineering and agricultural. The word “sol” is short for “solutions” and creates some imagery, because “sol” translates to “sun” in Spanish. I wanted to bring that concept of light into the name, because that is what drives photosynthesis in plants and again ties in with our venture into agricultural sustainability. Out of mere coincidence, by re-organising the words in “seanasol” we can create “seasonal”, which further represents our commitment to the environment.