According to Dr. Brande Wulff, the leader of the research team, under normal circumstances, it takes four to five months for a crop to go from seed to harvest. By comparison, the team took just eight weeks to grow crops using specially adapted LED lights. At the John Innes Center for Plant Research in Norwich, UK, the research team irradiated the plants 22 hours a day and provided them with a rich nutrient solution. But even then, they wanted to experiment with growing techniques that were more energy-efficient than standard labs.
Dr Wulff said: “We urgently need to develop crops that can better adapt to future climates. It is a race against time to develop better crops. These new crops will be affordable, more nutritious, and higher yielding varieties, in order to help feed the world’s growing population.”
The crops are also known to be larger and healthier than those grown under normal growing conditions. The researchers mainly used LED lights that can emit blue and red light needed for photosynthesis in plants. Most laboratories and greenhouses use sodium vapor lamps similar to street lamps.
Dr. Wulff pointed out that most of the yellow light and green light emitted by sodium vapor lamps are not needed for plant growth, while LED lights can just provide the light needed for plant photosynthesis.
However, because it is impractical to irradiate large farms at night, the team’s “rapid breeding” technique cannot be applied to farms. But Dr Wulff said the findings could speed up the progress of crop research, leading to better-adapted crops that are more nutrient-dense and require fewer chemicals.
In addition, the research team is also trying to grow six generations of barley, peas and chickpeas in one year.