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  • Hello. This is 6 Minute English from

  • BBC Learning English. I'm Neil.

  • And I'm Georgina.

  • Last November Nasa launched

  • a very unusual home delivery

  • service - a rocket carrying

  • four tonnes of supplies to the

  • ISS - the International Space Station.

  • Among the scientific equipment were

  • twelve bottles of red wine

  • from the famous Bordeaux

  • region of France.

  • The astronauts might have wanted

  • a glass of wine with dinner,

  • but the real purpose of

  • the bottles was to explore the possibility

  • of producing food and drink in space - not

  • for astronauts but for people

  • back on Earth.

  • In today's programme we'll be finding out

  • how growing plants in space

  • can develop crops

  • which are more productive and more

  • resistant to climate change here on Earth.

  • And we'll hear how plants can grow

  • in environments with little or

  • no natural light. But first,

  • today's quiz question: what was the first

  • food grown in space? Was it:

  • a) potatoes, b) lettuce, or c) tomatoes?

  • Well, in the film, The Martian, a stranded

  • astronaut grows potatoes on Mars.

  • I know it's

  • only a film but I'll say a) potatoes!

  • OK. We'll find out the answer later. Now,

  • you might be wondering how

  • it's possible to

  • grow plants without natural light.

  • British company Vertical Future

  • has been working on

  • this problem by developing indoor

  • farming methods in partnership

  • with Nasa.

  • Here's their Head of Research,

  • Jen Bromley, explaining the process

  • to BBC World Service

  • programme, The Food Chain:

  • Basically we use LED lighting and we use

  • LED lights that are tuned to

  • a specific wavelength.

  • So, if you image what the rainbow looks

  • like, the reason a plant looks

  • green is because

  • it's not using all the green light - it actually

  • reflects a lot of that back. So the reason

  • why it looks pink in here is because we're

  • actually only using red light and blue light

  • to grow the plants, and that essentially

  • tailors the light diet so that

  • the plants look kind of black

  • when you look at them because

  • they're not reflecting any light - they're

  • being super-efficient,

  • they're using up every photon

  • that hits them.

  • The lack of natural light in space means

  • that plants are grown using

  • LED lights - LED is

  • an abbreviation of 'light emitting diode'

  • - an electronic device that lights up when

  • electricity is passed through it.

  • On Earth plants look green because they

  • reflect back any light travelling

  • at a certain wavelength -

  • the distance between two waves of light

  • which make things appear

  • to us in the various

  • colours of the rainbow.

  • But when scientists control the

  • wavelengths being fed, plants

  • are able to absorb every

  • photon - particle of light energy,

  • making them appear black.

  • Each particle of light that hits the leaves

  • is absorbed and through

  • photosynthesis is

  • converted into plant food. Nasa

  • found that different colour

  • combinations, or light recipes,

  • can change a plant's shape, size

  • and even flavour.

  • But the lack of natural light isn't the

  • biggest obstacle to

  • growing food in space. Here's

  • Gioia Massa, chief plant scientist

  • at the Kennedy Space Centre

  • in Florida, to explain:

  • Microgravity is really challenging but

  • plants are amazing! They can

  • adapt to so many different

  • environments - we call this plasticity

  • because they can turn on or off

  • their genes to really

  • adapt to all sorts of conditions and that's

  • why you see plants growing

  • in different areas

  • on Earth - the same type of plant

  • may look very different

  • because it's adapting to the

  • environment in that specific location.

  • On Earth, plants use gravity to position

  • themselves - shoots grow up,

  • roots grow down. But this

  • doesn't apply in space because of

  • microgravity - the weaker pull

  • of gravity making things

  • float and seem weightless.

  • Plants can only survive in these

  • conditions due to their

  • plasticity - the ability of living

  • organisms to adapt and cope with

  • changes in the environment

  • by changing their biological

  • structure.

  • Plants adapt themselves to being

  • in space by manipulating their

  • genes - chemicals and

  • DNA in the cells of plants and animals

  • which control their development

  • and behaviour.

  • In the low-gravity atmosphere of space,

  • plants become stressed but

  • they adapt genetically.

  • And as a result they're stronger and

  • more resilient to other, less

  • stressful events

  • when they return home to Earth.

  • Like those bottles of red wine orbiting

  • Earth as we speak.

  • The effects of microgravity on

  • the wine's organic composition will be

  • studied and could hopefully

  • offer solutions for growing

  • food in Earth's changing climate.

  • So, Neil, if it wasn't red grapes, what

  • was the first food grown in space?

  • Ah yes, in today's quiz question I asked

  • what the first plant grown in space was.

  • I said, a) potatoes.

  • But in fact it was... b) lettuce - grown

  • over fifteen months on the ISS,

  • then eaten in fifteen

  • minutes in the first ever space salad.

  • Today we've been discussing the

  • possibilities of growing plants

  • in space using LED lights

  • - devices that use electricity

  • to produce light.

  • The energy needed for plants to grow is

  • contained in photons - or light

  • particles, travelling

  • at different wavelengths - distances

  • between light waves which

  • make things look different

  • colours.

  • Plants have evolved over millennia using

  • the strong gravity on Earth.

  • But this changes

  • in space because of microgravity - the

  • weaker gravitational pull making

  • things in space

  • float and seem weightless.

  • Luckily plants use their genes - the

  • chemicals in DNA responsible

  • for growth - to adapt to

  • new environments by changing their

  • biological structure - a process

  • known as plasticity.

  • All of which makes it possible for

  • astronauts to enjoy a glass

  • of wine and green salad in

  • space.

  • And genetically stronger plants

  • specimens to study back on Earth.

  • That's all for today but join us again soon

  • at 6 Minute English. Bye for now!

  • Bye!

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Food made in space - 6 Minute English

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/23
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