Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Friday 5 February 2016

When packing for your galactic cruise...don't forget the plants!

What should you take with you to colonise another planet? It may seem a question for the realms of science fiction fantasy, but it is a matter that NASA have been taking very seriously. In fact, the organisation have released an ambitious plan for an "Earth-Independent Colony" on Mars by the 2030s *

So -  building materials, maybe some robots to do the heavy lifting, perhaps some books to read in the lonely nights...but let's not forget the basics! Oxygen, clean water, food to eat - and that means PLANTS!

I was intrigued to come across and article announcing the European Space Agency's shortlist of "Champion Plants" to take to outer space. A lot of different factors had been considered, including ease of cultivation (especially in zero-gravity, soil free conditions!), nutritional quality, time to yield, and the amount of processing required...take a moment to think about what you would take, then see how your choices compare!

The ESA's Top 10 Plants for Galactic Pioneers:

1. Soybean - rich in protein and oil which can be made into other products, including soy sauce and fuel.
2. Potato - one of the highest-yielding crops per square metre providing large amounts of carbohydrate but also protein and vitamin C.
3. Rice - another important staple food crop. Dryland rice would be preferred over paddy-field varieties for space travel.
4. Soft White Wheat - for a variety of foodstuffs, including bread, cereals, pasta and couscous.
5. Tomatoes - a fast growing and vitamin rich foodstuff, especially new GM varieties with enhanced levels of beneficial compounds.
6. Spinach - another fast growing, highly nutritious food that can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.
7. Lettuce - fast growing with little waste, plus it brings a bit of "freshness" to the table!
8. Beetroot - sweet, nutritious and filling.
9. Spirulina - this micro-alga, although not very appetising, is protein rich and could efficiently produce oxygen from the waste carbon dioxide from pioneering astronauts.
10. Onion - this would help to liven up dull, dehydrated meals due to their stimulating effect on the central nervous system.

* Click here for more about NASAs Mars Colony Plans

This post was based on an article in the Daily Telegraph Weekend Section on Saturday 29th December