New Lab Simulates Future Conditions to Breed Heat-Resistant Crops

The University of Essex just opened a £3 million plant lab to fight climate change by developing new crops that can thrive in hotter and drier conditions. This state-of-the-art facility includes a vertical farm and chambers that mimic future climates, allowing researchers to develop new crops to ensure future food security.

New Lab Simulates Future Conditions to Breed Heat-Resistant Crops
Professor Tracy Lawson examines the plants being grown in the vertical farm. Image Credit: University of Essex

This new plant lab will put researchers on the frontline in the fight against climate change and create crops for “tomorrow’s atmosphere today.”

This state-of-the-art facility includes a commercial-grade vertical farm and an indoor field that can mimic real-world environments from across the globe. It also features suites designed to replicate the effects of global warming, where researchers can control CO2 levels and temperatures as needed.

Advanced computer scanning technology will monitor plant growth and analyze changes in photosynthesis.

The research will leverage artificial intelligence and robotics to innovate and develop technologies and strategies for predicting changes in agriculture and the natural environment.

By 2050, there will be 9.7 billion people on the planet, which means that to meet the demand for food, there must be a radical shift in agricultural productivity, sustainability, and resilience.

Leading Biologist Professor Tracy Lawson is leading the project, which expands on her groundbreaking work over several decades into increasing crop water use, photosynthetic process efficiency, and plant productivity.

This amazing facility places plant research at Essex in a unique position to be able to grow and select plants for tomorrow’s atmosphere today. This cutting-edge lab will put us at the forefront of research into how we can help plants change and adapt to climate change – helping secure everyone’s future. This state-of-the-art facility will help the world cope with a growing population by ensuring future food security by developing climate resilient plants.

Tracy Lawson, Professor and Project Lead, Biologist, University of Essex

First in the UK

The University will be the first in the UK to have a commercial standard vertical farm and is the only lab in the nation to combine all the facilities.

To achieve net zero, the Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS) facility will devise plans to maximize plant performance.

Additionally, it will enable researchers to forge connections within the community and cultivate relationships with agriculture, horticulture, and technology businesses.

It expands upon the groundbreaking work of the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC). Together, farmers, technologists, and scientists collaborate through EPIC to secure the food chain in the event of extreme weather, boost yields, and make crops more resilient to drought.

Students will be in charge of developing and carrying out experiments with the world-class researchers at the university, in addition to offering a distinctive undergraduate experience and training opportunity. Young scientists will now be able to begin their careers in a cutting-edge facility unique to Essex.

The Wolfson Foundation provided £1 million to support the development of the STEPS lab.

Race Against Time

We are in a race against time to futureproof agriculture against climate change, not just in the UK but globally. The University of Essex is leading the way in critical research and development to support innovation and sustainability in food production, and we are delighted to be funding the technology platforms that will help them achieve this.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive, Wolfson Foundation

This project will include long-time industry collaborator Innovation Agritech Group (IAG).

The British company installed the commercial standard vertical farm unit, deploying a full-scale GrowFrame360 – which is unique to UK universities.

Milestone Collaboration

We are honored to join forces with the University of Essex and the Wolfson Foundation in launching the first commercial vertical farm within a UK university.

Kate Brunswick, Business Development Director, Innovation Agritech Group

Brunswick said, “This milestone collaboration embodies our collective dedication to driving positive change in agriculture. Our innovative GrowFrame360 technology will empower scientists and students alike to tackle the complexities of a changing climate on future crop production, aiming for future food security. We eagerly anticipate the transformative impact this facility will have on agricultural resilience and productivity.”

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