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‘Cosmic crops’

for food security and climate change adaptation

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have sent seeds into space, to investigate the effects of cosmic radiation and harsh space conditions on breeding new crop varieties to withstand the effects of climate change and help fight global hunger.

One week before the expected return of the seeds to Earth, the IAEA and FAO held an event for students, the scientific community and the public to learn about space science and nuclear techniques in plant breeding. Participants heard from an astronaut and a scientist, about what it is like to work at the International Space Station and why this research is important in supporting food security and economic development around the world.  

The event was held on Monday, 27 March at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), MUG2-HS 02, Muthgasse 18, 1190 Vienna. 


As part of an IAEA Coordinated Research Project, the IAEA and FAO sent seeds of two plant species — sorghum, a cereal grain, and Arabidopsis, a type of cress — to the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2022, where they are being exposed to microgravity, extreme temperatures and cosmic radiation.

Upon their return, these seeds will be germinated, grown and screened for desirable traits. These analyses will help to understand whether cosmic radiation and harsh space conditions (microgravity and extreme temperatures) will lead to crops becoming more resilient in the face of increasingly difficult growing conditions on Earth.

While similar experiments have been carried out since 1946, it is the first time the IAEA and FAO are conducting an astrobiology project, based on 60 years of experience of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in inducing mutations in plants for improving crops. It will be also the first time the DNA of such seeds will be compared to the ones grown under laboratory conditions at the FAO/IAEA greenhouses and laboratories in Seibersdorf.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu delivered opening messages and experts in the field expalined why this research is important n supporting food security and economic development around the world. 

NASA Astronaut Kayla Barron discussed her experience working and carrying out experiments at the International Space Station. Plant breeding and genetics expert Shoba Sivasankar presented the science behind the project. This was followed by an interactive question and answer session. 

Comic competition

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have launched a comic book competition inviting 14 to 18 year olds to submit artwork that tells the story of the ‘seeds in space’.

This competition is open to youth around the world, inviting them to create a paper or digital illustration to portray one of the six main steps of the seeds’ journey to the International Space Station.

The winning design will be used as inspiration to create the official comic book of seeds in space.

Artwork will be judged by IAEA and FAO scientists and designers, who will select a shortlist of 10 designs (the nominees), and from those they will select the winner.

The deadline for submissions is Sunday, 16 April 2023. The winners will be announced on 23 April 2023, World Book and Copyright Day. Find more details here

Owing to the high number of submissions, the contest organizers have decided to provide more time for the judges to review the entries. The nominees and the winner will be announced soon.

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