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IAEA and FAO Announce Winners of Seeds in Space Comic Book Contest


Seemab Fatima from Pakistan used ink and watercolour to produce her winning comic. (See Seemab's and the finalists' comics)

More than 70 young artists around the world submitted designs for the Seeds in Space Comic Book Contest held by the IAEA and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), aimed at inspiring the next generation of experts in nuclear science and technology. The winner is 17-year-old Seemab Fatima from Pakistan, whose ink and watercolour artwork will serve as inspiration to create a comic book revealing how cosmic radiation and the harsh conditions of space could help develop better crops for food security on Earth.

Artists, aged between 14 and 18, depicted the journey of the IAEA and FAO crop seeds sent to the International Space Station (ISS), part of an IAEA and FAO research project on breeding new plant varieties that can withstand the effects of climate change and help farmers provide sufficient food.

“This first-of-a-kind project gave us an opportunity to engage youth in discovering how nuclear techniques provide exciting contributions to astrobiology and help breed new varieties of plants adapted to climate change,” said Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, Director of the IAEA’s Office of Public Information and Communication. “We received many fantastic drawings, and the decision was not easy. Seemab’s visual narration of the 'seeds in space story' is very inspiring and beautifully executed.”

Participants used a range of digital and traditional mediums to draw up to six steps of the seeds’ journey, including: seeds preparation at the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria; launch of the seeds into space and docking at the ISS; exposure to cosmic radiation, antigravity and extreme temperatures inside and outside the ISS; splashdown; analysis and growth; and the potential results.

“Three IAEA and FAO experts in plant breeding and communications judged the artworks anonymously based on the representation of nuclear science, originality, creativity and design. The vote for the winner was unanimous,” said Clara Velez Fraga, FAO Chief of Outreach and Promotions.

“The potential of space exploration is immense and by entering the competition, and combining my love for art and space, I learned about the IAEA’s and FAO’s work to address hunger on Earth,” said contest winner Fatima.

The artwork of the ten finalists, including the winning entry, can be seen in the virtual gallery.

  1. Seemab Fatima, 17
  2. Airi T. Takada, 16
  3. Shruti Prahlad Yadav, 14
  4. Christine Margarette M. Pabelonio, 15
  5. Nur Emily Fazli Low, 17
  6. Puteri Khairina Binti Lin Chap Akang, 14
  7. Kaella Caliwag, 15
  8. Kyle Sander S. Magante, 16
  9. Shelby Gayle M. Torres, 18
  10. Zhu Yushi, 17

Next steps for space seeds

Launched into space in November 2022, the Arabidopsis and Sorghum seeds landed back on Earth on 15 April, having been exposed inside and outside the ISS for approximately five months to a complex mixture of harsh space conditions. The seeds will be germinated and grown in the IAEA and FAO greenhouses and laboratories.

Comparisons between the seeds that were positioned inside and outside the ISS, to seeds that were irradiated in a laboratory, will help clarify whether space conditions have a uniquely valuable effect on the development of new and improved crop varieties. The results could potentially improve food security in countries most affected by food shortages brought about by climate change.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, based in Vienna, Austria, has been using radiation to develop new agricultural crop varieties for almost 60 years. Mutation breeding uses a plant’s own genetic make-up and mimics the natural process of spontaneous mutation, potentially producing plant varieties with higher yields, shorter cultivation times and better resistance to disease and climate change. So far, over 3400 new varieties of more than 210 plant species have been developed using radiation-induced genetic variation and mutation breeding — including numerous food crops, ornamentals and trees used by farmers in 70 countries.

The competition results follow the IAEA and FAO event on ‘Cosmic crops’ for food security and adaptation held at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria, which also aimed to engage future experts and leaders in the field.

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