First soybeans grown in space will focus on discovering future benefits

In the first science research of its kind, DuPont will grow soybeans in space to study the effects of zero-gravity on accelerating growth cycles of soybeans – one of the most consumed crops in the world today. Pictured above, scientists Bruce Link (left) and Guillermo Tellez prepare seeds in a growth chamber for the upcoming NASA Space Shuttle launch scheduled for May 30. The “Soybeans in Space” launch is the first initiative to grow a major crop in space — from planting seeds to harvesting the grain. If the experiment is successful, future long-distance space flights and the space station could become self-sufficient by growing their own food.

In the first space experiment of its kind, DuPont tomorrow will begin space exploration designed to discover new scientific research about one of the most consumed crops in the world today – soybeans.

Continuing its extensive history with NASA, DuPont has partnered with the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR) — a NASA Commercial Space Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — to conduct an unprecedented exploration of soybean development by launching and growing soybean plants in space during NASA’s space shuttle flight scheduled for takeoff Thursday, May 30.

The research will determine whether plants grow differently in space and examine the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth and development. The soybeans-in-space launch is the first initiative to grow a complete soybean crop in space — from planting the seed to harvesting the grain. DuPont subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., and WCSAR will study the harvested seed from soybean plants grown in space to find out if they have improved oil, protein, carbohydrates or secondary metabolites that could benefit farmers and consumers.
According to the United Soybean Board, soybeans are the largest single source of protein meal and vegetable oil in the human diet. Domestically, soybeans provide 80 percent of the edible consumption of fats and oils in the United States. In 2000, 54 percent of the world’s soybean trade originated from the United States with soybean and product exports totaling more than $6.6 billion. The world’s largest seed company, Pioneer, is the brand leader in soybeans with more than 100 product varieties on the market.

As part of the initiative, scientists will plant Pioneer-brand soybean seeds in a specialized tray within a growth chamber developed by WCSAR. The chamber will be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) from the space shuttle flight. During the 70-day experiment, the soybean plants will germinate, grow and produce seeds. Scientists will monitor the process via video and data sent from the space station.

The plants and harvested grain will be returned to Earth this summer by the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Seeds exhibiting unique and desirable qualities will be planted by Pioneer researchers to determine if the traits can be inherited in future generations. Pioneer will identify the genetics of those traits and use that information to further improve the soybeans’ efficiency and profitability for farmers.

DuPont, which marks its 200th anniversary in July, has a long history of space initiatives, dating back to NASA’s origination 33 years ago. For example, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, he wore 25 separate layers – 23 of those layers were DuPont materials. In 1984, Pioneer corn seeds were on board a Challenger shuttle launch. The seeds, which were not planted while in space, were used in science-based initiatives after returning to Earth.

“For 200 years, innovation has been the cornerstone of DuPont,” said Dr. Thomas M. Connelly, Chief Science and Technology Officer for DuPont. “As a science company, we realize that future opportunities don’t always come where you found your last opportunities. The discovery process often requires exploring in new areas – like soybeans growing in space — to unleash the next wave of innovation.”

“This is an incredible scientific opportunity for us and our partners,” said Dr. Tom Corbin, DuPont researcher on the project. “Studying the effects of soybean plants grown in space will help us expand our knowledge of soybeans and facilitate continued improvement of soybean germplasm for farmers.”

The joint initiative builds on ADVANCED ASTROCULTURETM technologies developed by WCSAR that have proven successful in growing other plants in space. ASTROCULTURETM controls the input of variables and conditions necessary for plant growth such as temperature, water, humidity, light, atmospheric conditions and nutrients.

“This program also provides an exciting opportunity for students throughout the world to learn more about the future of basic plant growth through an educational outreach program called Space Explorers, Inc.,” Corbin said.

Space Explorers, Inc., will facilitate an information exchange between K-12 students throughout the U.S. and the ISS. As students grow their own soybean plants in the classroom, they will compare their results to those of the plants growing simultaneously in space.

Students will have the opportunity to view and monitor the actual payloads on the ISS, chat with program scientists and share information with other schools through an online database. A privately held company based in Green Bay, Wis., Space Explorerse onnc., has a mission of providing innovative, standards-based education programs delivered via the Internet in order to educate the public about the science of space.

WCSAR makes space available to industry in the interest of development and commercialization of new products and processes. It provides controlled environment technologies and facilities, plant genetic transformation technologies, enhanced biosynthesis technologies, as well as robotic and automated technologies.

During 2002, DuPont is celebrating its 200th year of scientific achievement and innovation – providing products and services that improve the lives of people everywhere. Based in Wilmington, Del., DuPont delivers science-based solutions for markets that make a difference in people’s lives in food and nutrition; health care; apparel; home and construction; electronics; and transportation. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, is the world’s leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers, and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics, crop protection solutions and quality crop systems to customers in nearly 70 countries.

ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE – is a trademark of the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics.