Microgravity

An Agarose Hydrogel Composite Has Possible Applications For Space Farming

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
International Journal of Biological Macromolecules
August 15, 2022
Filed under , , , , ,
An Agarose Hydrogel Composite Has Possible Applications For Space Farming
Agarose hydrogel composite supports microgreen cultivation
International Journal of Biological Macromolecules

Original article: Agarose hydrogel composite supports microgreen cultivation with enhanced porosity and continuous water supply under terrestrial and microgravitational conditions, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules

Abstract: Agarose hydrogel composite supports microgreen cultivation with enhanced porosity and continuous water supply under terrestrial and microgravitational conditions.

Hydrogels are attractive soilless media for plant cultivation with strong water and nutrient retention. However, pristine hydrogels contain mostly ultra-micro pores and lack air-filled porosity for root zone aeration. Herein we report a porous hydrogel composite comprising an agarose network and porous growing mix particle (GMP) fillers. The agarose backbone allowed the composite to sustain a 12-d growth cycle for red cabbage microgreens without the need for watering or crew interaction.

Moreover, the GMP induced greater total pore volume and increased the prevalence of pores >30 μm by 8-fold. Further investigation suggested that the nutrients from GMP accounted for a 54 % increase in microgreen yield over pristine hydrogel, while the porous structure introduced by GMP improved the yield by another 44 %. Increased air-filled porosity accelerated the water transport and loss of hydrogel but maintained favorable water potential levels for plant extraction.

Finally, the hydrogel composite supported microgreen growth satisfyingly under simulated microgravity despite some morphological changes. Results of this study reveal a novel growth substrate that is lightweight, convenient, and water-efficient, while effectively sustaining plant growth for multiple applications including indoor farming and space farming.

Astrobiology, Space Biology,

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.