Chinese scientists are paying up to $45,000 a gram to place botanical species —including garden vegetables, medicinal herbs and flowers— aboard satellites and spacecrafts. They grow plants using seeds that have been shot into space, then expose them to extraterrestrial conditions, from zero gravity and cosmic radiation to subatomic particles.
As a trip into space alters the seeds’ DNA, the piece of fruit or vegetable sort of doubles or triples in size (producing four pounds eggplants and cucumbers as long as baseball bats) and presents much more nutrients. Grown space tomatoes have 27 percent more of the antioxidant beta carotene, and cotton plants produce longer, more flexible threads.
Most are being developed in labs or experimental greenhouses because the safety and quality of the produce have to be established before being put on the market.