Episode 1

Published on:

29th Sep 2021

Bio Economies in Space and on Earth

Many people refer to the 21st Century as the Bio Century as we shift from an industrial economy based on petroleum to one based on what we can grow with all the exciting developments of biotech and life sciences. In this episode we meet a veteran of this shift and an emerging innovator, both working on using the unique environment of space to help humanity adapt.

In this first episode of the Unconventional Growth Podcast, Dan Reus will be interviewing Scot Bryson from Orbital Farm and Bob Morrow of Sierra Nevada Corp’s LIFE habitat and Astro Garden projects on an episode discussing Bio Economies in Space and on Earth. 

Guest Bios:

Scot Bryson - Scott is the founder of Orbital Farm, an agritech company developing systems for growing food and creating vaccines in space as well as here on Earth.  Scott has started countless companies in his career but has developed an interest in finding solutions to climate change and world hunger.  

Bob Morrow - Bob is the scientist behind the VEGGIE Plant Growth System and the Sierra Nevada Corp’s LIFE habitat and Astro Garden.  Bob has a thorough background in research for growing food in space and has worked on countless projects all the way from developing LED lights for growing crops as well as microgravity effects on plants.

Show Notes:

Background of Sierra Nevada Corp’s LIFE Habitat (4:18)

Astro Garden (4:00)

Background of Orbital Farm (4:43)

Building colonies on Mars and the moon (5:24)

Benefits of testing in microgravity (7:49)

Shoutout from Bob Morrow to Dr. Ray Wheeler, NASA Kennedy Space Center (9:22)

Constraints of testing in space (10:18)

Fundamentals of the Cellular Agriculture industry (12:44)

Growing microgreens and leafy greens in space (13:10)

Characteristics of crops that will be grown in space (13:54)

Current Vertical Farming technology (13:56)

Developing pharmaceutical products in space (19:04)

Optimizing space for research (20:17)

Volume and mass impact of life support systems (21:26)

Ideal customers or agencies to use these life support systems (23:58)

Applying research and and findings in space experiments to situations on Earth (26:19)

Phenotyping testbed research (31:04)

Developing LED lights for growing plants (34:22)

Aeroponics in space (35:18)

Life support systems role in impacting life on Earth (36:08)

Current problems that can lead to more jobs in this field of food in space (44:19)

The experiences and connections that food provide for us all (47:28)

Shoutout from Scot Bryson to Lisa Dyson, CEO of Kiverdi (51:08)

Shoutout from Bob Morrow to Dr. Ray Wheeler, NASA Kennedy Space Center (42:20)

Shoutout from Bob Morrow to American Society for Gravitational Space Research (42:55)

Special thanks to the Danforth Plant Science Center, a founding sponsor for the first episodes, which are being launched by the Yield Lab Institute, a global non-profit think tank for food/ag innovation. The Institute works with innovators and world leading organizations like the UNEP, United Soybean Board, Syngenta, AWS, Cargill, The Maschoffs, the World Wildlife Fund, and others.




Dan Reus 0:01

Just a reminder, we're counting down, you should see a countdown timer. This will record to your local computer. So if there are internet and internet glitches or whatever, it'll record and then at the end of this session, it asks you to leave it open long enough to process that it will upload to the server so that Paul can actually download it. So that way we'll avoid any connectivity issues and this but we are recording now. And we should be good to go. So I'm going to start here. Hi, everybody, welcome to unconventional growth, the podcast produced by the yield lab Institute, that is all about how we can accelerate the growth of our of the impact of our food and ag systems by really looking further into the future. So today, we have an exciting episode, we have Bob Morrow joining us from CRS space, and we have Scott rice and joining us from orbital farm and we're going to be talking about controlled environmental agriculture or CEA on earth and and in space, and how all those things work and how the work in space is really improving what's going on on Earth. So, um, I want to start with a shout out. First of all, thanks to the Donald Danforth plant science center. This podcast is sponsored by the Donald Danforth plant science center, harnessing the power of plants to cultivate a better world. Dan forth center.org. So, Bob, let's start with you. You're with Sierra space, you're based in Wisconsin. And you've really been involved from, for some time, on growing plants in space that have a lot of what we see is the vertical farming intra industry. And the indoor ag industry on Earth has really adopted many of the technologies that you guys and you know, the basic research that you guys have done. So tell us a little bit about the path of this that you've been involved in from your perspective.

Bob Morrow 2:15

straints and those issues? In:

Dan Reus 4:14

Wonderful. So that's quite the legacy. But then Scott, you're a startup. And so you're essentially building on the legacy that Bob is talking about. So talk a little bit about orbital farm and how you built and as a startup and what you're doing to build on that legacy.

Scot Bryson 4:33

Thanks, Dan. honored to be here and be on stage as well here. So thanks. Thanks for that. So orbital farm is a circular project development group. And so what we're doing is we're really working on the intersection of how do you integrate all these different systems together and how do you work at large scales when we're trying to think about the longevity of our species When we're trying to think about food security here on Earth, we really need to understand how waste systems function together with food growth systems, and and how these integrate together with energy systems. These are very important questions when we're thinking about how do we build lunar colonies? How do we build Mars colonies? How do we build space colonies, you really need to have a deep understanding, and a long term understanding of how these technologies integrate and work together. And so we what we try to focus on right now is working on developing commercial projects here on Earth, that can allow us to understand these intersections of these novel technologies. And we look at that future space environment and that desired state where we want to be, and we look at those constraints of that of that situation, what are the material flows? What are the energy balances, what are the resources that we have available to build an ecosystem from that, and that drives our technology selection in terms of what goes into an orbital farm project. And we take those, that technology architecture, and we apply that to developing commercial projects here on earth. And so that's really the the place where we're focused, we really see these technologies that have been developed for so long, you know, back in back in the in the 60s and 50s, even there, there was significant work that was taking place in terms of human humans in space, and how we can support habitats and life support systems. And the technologies that came out of the late 60s, we've had the capability of capturing carbon dioxide and creating protein sources and polymers and oils, from single celled organisms, NASA, and the life support systems teams have really fundamental research and work. And that creativity that comes out of those areas is really driven from this very constrained environment. And we're trying to identify the areas where those technologies can really be applied at scale, here on earth to address the many challenges that we have here in terms of food security, global hunger, energy insecurity, and these these areas that really needs addressing here.

Dan Reus 7:14

So, Bob, when we talked briefly, you know, the other day to kind of set up this podcast and we talked in that pre interview, you mentioned, you know, some of the researchers the P eyes guys have worked with. So what are the things that you know, that people can learn from growing in space that you can't learn on earth? Are they just the technologies that said that technology demonstration? Or is there basic science that people can really explore in microgravity or offer if easier than on earth?

Bob Morrow 7:49

Well, I think one of the primary things for research is that it's providing a new environment, you can't really provide on the ground, you know, for plant growth. So if you can grow in microgravity, and so equivalent to the early days, when electric lighting was first developed, now allow you to change a lot of variables in the lighting, and study how the plant reacted to that. And that gives you a much better understanding of the plant physiology. And the same is true with microgravity, it's an totally new environmental parameter that you can look at. And you can see how the plant reacts genetically physiologically, and that can tell you things that gives you a better understanding of the plant. If you understand the plant in more detail, then you can apply, you know that to your ground base, plant production, plant modification and so forth. So that that's one interesting area from the straight plant research end of it. Which is linked to but it's also suffering from the work related to testing life support plant based life support for eventual use in the space.

Dan Reus 9:02

Right. Well, and you talked early on about this first project about, you know, growing potatoes for life support. And by the way, I didn't realize that the Martian really was that closely related to an early project. You know, did you work with a guy named Matt? No.

Bob Morrow 9:22

It's your postdoc at the time was Dr. Ray Wheeler, NASA Kennedy Space Center now. And he did a lot of research into potato gun combat slash support, in addition to other plant based charities, but yeah, he's kind of the original Martian, I think. Developing potatoes as a crop in space.

Dan Reus 9:46

So talk a little bit about like, Scott, from your perspective, growing in space versus growing on Earth. You know, so Bob was just talking about you know, that there's some things that you can understand more easily about basic science, you know, what are some things that might be from a production perspective eventually, or production research perspective that might, you know, being in orbit or on a celestial body, that might be of advantage of advantage to us?

Scot Bryson:

Yeah, I mean, the, one of the one of the key things that I always think about, and the constraints of the space domain, really puts focus on the waste streams know, if you're, if you're going to grow a crop, just even tomatoes, for example, you know, you've got a significant amount of biomass and material, you're harvesting just a little tomatoes, but eventually that tomato plant needs to be removed, and what you're going to do with all of that materials, the root mass of the plants, and know that these waste streams that today here on Earth, either aren't really addressed, or they're completely wasted, or turned into compost, and soils and fields, which we can't have, we can't do that in a lunar economy. Can't do that on a Martian system. So the focus on reusability, nutrient recovery, those are really important areas that, that really do translate from from space to Earth, some of the areas that we're interested in are in partial gravity and understanding, you know, what, what differences that actually makes to different plants, to plant growth, how that affects the the, the, the, what the plant actually expresses, do the genes function in the same way, you know, there's very little it's understood about, about this work at this point. So these are really areas of interest for us. In terms of what we're looking to do,

Dan Reus:

that's really interesting. And one of our later podcasts, we've got some other folks coming on that are really developing cultivars for indoor and vertical growing, and one of them is, you know, we know that they've, you know, developed, you know, phenotyping workers, a lot of that is about developing ability to be more compact to have, you know, to grow in closer confines, but never really thought about, if you might optimize for reduced, you know, biomass at the end, you know, like, you know, like, you know, like, only have as much infrastructure on the plant as is necessary. never really thought about that, that's kind of intriguing.

Scot Bryson:

Yeah, what that's going to be a big is going to be a component, and, you know, and even the ability in the future to, to, you know, remove a lot of a lot of those components, you know, outside of plants, when we're thinking about proteins, you know, plant based proteins are great, but again, they produce a lot of additional biomass that needs to be dealt with, which has, you know, a bigger cost implication there, and that domain, then back here, but when you start thinking about other industries, like the cellular agriculture industry, like single proteins, you know, that that's really where you start really thinking about optimizing nutrition and optimizing what is if you're targeting produce, and those are, those are areas that really become key focus in designing what a license to production system would look like, want, you know, lettuce and leafy greens and herbs and peppers.

Dan Reus:

Alright, you know, Bob, can you talk a little bit about you know, so Scott was just alluding to, you know, like, most of us know about vertical farming and things and, you know, here on Earth, right now, they produce a lot of microgreens, and leafy greens and things like that, although they are moving into more high value crops, like strawberries, and and, as you mentioned, chilies. And, and, and app harvest is doing tomatoes, but what are some of the organisms that lend themselves? You know, what are the some of the cultivars that work well, for vertical? Or for controlled environment growing in space? And what are some of the kind of model organisms? Why are they studied? Well,

Bob Morrow:

the couple of important characteristics for crops that are being used for researching space are obviously, you know, kind of right now, volume, size, and also growth cycle rate. You don't have really extensive long durations for testing, there's a big queue of experiments and so forth. So there's Yeah, like that's why rabid abscess is used for a lot of the research. There. Another one is called rapid cycling brassicas because they go from seed to seed in about 30 days. So. So those are important as model plants. And they're also well understood genetically, and so forth. From the crop end. You know, small volume plants are important. But they still need to be productive and so forth. So things like basic leafy greens, I mean, they're suited pretty well for space applications. They're small, they're fast growing, you know, people like them, but There hasn't been outside of an effort at Utah State with Dr. Bruce budgie really an effort to start adapting plants that are good for use in the space, he worked at doing things like dwarf wheat or rice, or peas, feeds and so forth that would basically have almost the same productivity as far as the edible part, but much less in edible biomass, which kind of solves some of the immediate problems or would help with immediate problems. Now, eventually, that inedible biomass may be a resource, I mean, you can make it in the straw and use it for fabrication, if you're on a planetary base, you can use it for bio production and put it into your use your microbial systems to convert it to useful products, but But for now, that's been most of the effort is trying to get him to fit. And I think vertical farming may may or may not that may be important when you can just get more edible material or useful material in a small volume, smaller volume.

Dan Reus:

Well, it's interesting, you know, the, like in vertical farming, one of the things is for tomatoes, you know, they're having to optimize, you know, it's very difficult in a vertical farm to have vine grown, produce, you know, that's very difficult to scale up. And it's the same kind of thing, you know, and also vine grown in space just doesn't work. It doesn't, you know, where does the vine go, you know, which way is up? But so, Scott, talk about, from your perspective, what kinds of plants are interesting starting points to build on? Once you start thinking about space as a platform to develop interesting traits or interesting products or really impactful products?

Scot Bryson:

Yeah, it's a, it's a good question. And so you think about it actually is, is more about the infrastructure that's going to be required to produce a variety of different crops, right. So if you're thinking about a long term or sustainable operation, you're going to want to have more than just nutrient supplementation, you're going to want to have variety of different types of products. Over the course of you know, a couple years, well, well, you know, three year missions on Mars scenario, so what we try to think of is how you can develop a platform that can grow multiple different types of crops that can grow a lettuce type of crop, but then could also be used to grow a dwarf type of product, you're not going to be able to have every single product fit into the same thing, you know, cucumbers, vining type of crops, these require a different infrastructure system, to, to host those types of plants and materials. But, and the same thing goes with like a cereal crop. So if a barley or wheat type type of crop, if we want to brew beer, in space, which, you know, Budweiser has flown experiments, I believe, three experiments on the International Space Station so far, in experimenting and understanding, you know, how plants grow and how they can potentially brew the first beer on Mars, I believe, is their stated goal. So, you know, so then

Dan Reus:

We'll have to grow hops to I mean, it's clear, you're gonna have to grow hops, right?

Scot Bryson:

So you know, the hops is, it's already a vertical plant, right, it grows very tall and vertical. So you've got a very optimized system, but how you're going to how you're going to leverage that system to be able to grow the hops for a period of time, because you don't need hops all the time, you're going to need a harvest, and then you can switch over that same production facility to then grow cucumbers or grow eggplant, those types of things. And so that's really what we're trying to, we're trying to understand these multi use infrastructure systems that can be applied to different types of crops and plants. And then also then converting those same plants, and those same growing systems to be able to grow other other type of even pharmaceutical products. So you can get into plant based vaccines that can be that can be grown. And that can be done with things like lettuce that can be done with things like, like carrots, like spinach, like tobacco plants. And so you know, you've got a wide variety of different uses with that same asset. And then even moving further, you can use different different types of crops to produce growth factors that can be used for the cellular agriculture industry. And again, trying to think of how do these systems support a multi multi different species of crops, you know, you've got to have variable lighting conditions, you've got heard of high controllability of nutrients and watering cycles and temperature and pH cycles, that you've really are controlling that environment tailored to that specific type of crop. And these are the these are the things that we were thinking about and exploring and applications here on Earth.

Dan Reus:

You know, it's really interesting, you know, for so many years, in the, in the last Green Revolution, you know, really optimization was for optimizing for, for yield and optimizing for ship ability. And, and in some cases, optimizing for consistency, you know, but what you're talking about is being able to optimize for a lot of different things. So, Bob, I want to go back to something you you casually mentioned, like this idea of starting with potatoes and thinking about it for life support, and then getting to one of your later projects to actually start having some metrics, you know, to have a goal of a system to support for astronauts, you know, what's the volume of space that requires, you know, some talk a little bit about how much of a footprint it required initially to think that way? You know, and if we think about how much it requires on the field to grow that much, how much are we getting down to, to really optimize the use of space, in doing these projects that you've seen over year over year, over the years of your career?

Bob Morrow:

Well, I'm kind of going by rule of thumb, because it's been a while since I've looked at that area, but it's generally been considered various authorities 40 to 60 cubic meters of flat growth, volume, and I throw the volume. And if you're looking at a veil person, that's pretty critical, maybe not in a planetary base, it's not quite as critical. But that's still to provide total absolute life support, atmospheric revitalization, water revitalization, and everything. That's for one one person. So yeah, I think you can see that carry, depending on the size of your base, and that's getting pretty big. You know, we've kind of put in the shorter term, we've taken a metric that NASA has, where they have a call salad crop diet, that provides a salad to approve for on a continuous basis, you know, there's a given area on that, which I'm not remembering, exactly, but it's, it's basically, the set of it. In our system, we have eight modules that are four feet by two feet. And that will produce sufficient variety of vegetable crops and different types. To provide a continuous basis, you're always planting and rotation. Now, so you have stuff coming. Due all the time that you can harvest your the reality in the long duration, you're probably talking to call hybrid life support systems, which will be both physical, chemical and biological, which will reduce the volume required substantially. But, you know, there's going to be that evolution to know how to get from total reason why Academy to fully self contained retirement.

Dan Reus:

So, Scott, talk a little bit as a startup, so obviously, Bob and his team, they've been working with NASA, and people like that. You guys, you know, you don't have billions of dollars yet. So do you have to wait for your own rockets? Or how do you work on the kinds of projects you're working on? What are the partnerships you build? And who are the people you work with? Are they your customers? Are they joint venture kinds of partners? Talk a little bit about how you build a business around this?

Scot Bryson:

Yeah, that's a that's a great question. So the way that we think about we, the areas that we try to focus on are really the intersections of where that space domain and where Earth applications can really be applied. And so we're really looking at this from a commercial first type of perspective, and trying to develop that Venn diagram of Okay, well, we know that this is this intended future state, what are the research projects that we need to make sure that are achieved in order to be successful in the space domain? And how can that be applied to commercial projects with commercial business interests here? And so that, that that's an important piece to this puzzle, because, you know, what, what Bob was really mentioning in the customers that and the plant growth systems that have been designed to date and the life support systems have been designed to date have been very much focused around, you know, a crew of four to six people we're really interested in, you know, we want to get to the stage where humanity can slip For 100 people, and 1000 people, 10,000 people and a million people, and and what did those systems need to look like because it's not as modular and scalable. And it's the requirements are very different. When you start thinking about those size of numbers, you know, if you're just thinking about 100 person crew going to Mars, that that's going to take 1.8 starship loads of just food and packaging, just for to sustain those 100 people over that, over that three year time frame. That's a significant amount of mass. And when you also have that number of people, and people that are

Dan Reus:

and by the way, that mass costs about 15 $100 a kilo, to get up there. So that's a significant expense,

Scot Bryson:

significant expense, but it's also the experience, and you got to think about who those people are, we're not talking about. We're not talking about government employees at this stage. These are commercial customers. And so your diet, you don't want to just eat your bare minimums, you don't want to eat, just eat, your sustaining type of foods, you want to have bananas, you want to have chocolate, you know, you want to have these types of components that, you know, are very difficult and don't really fit into that into that ecosystem, that are the current pathways there. So those are the types of types of things that we're trying to think of it. And so where does that lend itself here on Earth, back to your original question of who our customers, our customers end up being grocery stores, our customers end up being commercial companies that are looking to secure supply chains that are looking to develop food security, for for certain products, they're looking to increase or reduce their their carbon footprint on on significant number of those products, or supply chains, you know, COVID, in this in this last year, has really put a huge spotlight on the the incredible instability of our global supply, food supply chains, and the fragility of the situation that's happening with our climate, the volatility of our weather systems, first impact our food production, you know, our agriculture system that we have built, our society on over the last 10,000 years have been based on a steady stable climate, I put my seeds in the ground, I know the spring rains, yo u know, this approximate amount of rain is going to come in the spring and I can grow this amount of crop and then in the fall, this is when the frost are going to hit and you know, the storms aren't going to be so large that there's not so much hail. But all of this is being disrupted. And what we see in the commercial and industrial sector is, is we're gonna see significant pricing volatility and changes as that climate becomes more volatile. And so the way that we're positioning ourselves and our customers are these large institutional companies that want to develop long term, stable supply chain, and so we can't think about, you know, doing contracts together with NASA for these, you know, 10 year experiments, that that's just not how financing and grant grant funding functions in any country, let alone United States. So you have to think when you're trying to build a business plan over a 15 to 20 year timeframe, you've got to think in ways that how can you secure customers for 15 or 20 years, and we've got a great model to follow renewable energies that they've built on these long term advanced purchase agreements. And that really enabled this huge global scale of an entire industry. And so what we try to do is apply that thinking in that approach to, to apply to companies here on earth.

Dan Reus:

Yeah, it's a it's a hyper local production, and it's not the idea that we'll ever I mean, in our lifetimes, Sibley stop growing in the Central Valley and in Mexico and all of these places, but that we need to have resiliency, for our, you know, for our foods, you know, for our food chain. By putting some of the production much closer, much more responsive, I want to get back to you, you know, so we were, you know, Scott's been talking a lot about building this much bigger system. But you guys actually, you've grown from this thing that was sized to now, you know, Astro garden is bigger than rack sized. And you guys have a habitat that you guys are working on, called the life habitat that's meant to be bigger than just a module of the space station for research. So Astra garden is sized to be able to produce for a crew. But is it also possible for it to be a testbed for research? Or is it really a production thing? Like do you do you start thinking about, like, how do we build plant growth systems that are either for production and life support, or for research, you know, for being a phenotyping testbed in orbit, like, you know, Abu Dhabi is launching, is working on their system for working on, you know, finding things that work for food, sovereignty, you know, talk a little bit about how the hardware has evolved over your career. Yeah, the

Bob Morrow:

I've seen the scale because earlier, vehicles with the shuttle and Space Station are limited to, you know, right now, the past plant habitats, the biggest system that's flown, and that's only half rat sized system, the something like the astral garden, it, it really is analogous to a controlled environment, growth chamber on earth or something, it can both be used to produce our crops that can be used for research, including phenotyping, and any other types of physiological research either related to crop production, or just, you know, for straightforward plant science, like applications. One of the big issues as you know, if you're eventually going to be relying on these things for life support, you really want to wring it out, and you really need time to microgravity at a large scale, you know, the small unit just can't tell you, all the issues you're going to run into, when you start trying to run a larger unit, you can tell that your 11 year old son, you have to clean up 10 racks IT system after harvest and and get it planted again and everything else so that you need to work out all those details, you know,

Dan Reus:

because there is no door to just throw everything out and start over again. Right, right.

Bob Morrow:

Yeah. So that's, I think one of the bigger functions of a large scale system in the near term will be to be kind of a dress rehearsal. You know, before you scale it up to the next step, you have to look at Whole reliability issues and microbiological climate, and microgravity long duration and, you know, seal, you know, tin can, and so, there's a lot of questions that are being addressed on the ground. But until you really do it in your final use environment, you know, you're not fully there yet.

Dan Reus:

So, talk a little bit about, you know, on Earth, if you're growing in soil, you know, that the soil is an active part of it, there's the microbial now there's the microbiome, it's it's not, you know, a plant studying on its own, you know, I, you know, in space, obviously, you can't have soil floating around loose, and, you know, and you can't, you know, use equipment the same way. So there are some differences. You know, what are the, you know, what, you know, what's being explored. And then Scott, I want to tee you up to talk a little bit about, you know, so there are some constraints that may or may not affect how plants grow in space, but maybe those that constraints can either be useful, as, you know, creative constraints, or those can be things that, you know, there's an opportunity for somebody to solve for, you know, this problem. But Bob talked a little bit about, you know, what's different about growing in space for a plant in a habitat like this, like the, you know, like the a pH or Astro garden versus, you know, growing here on earth?

Bob Morrow:

Well, two of the earliest things, you know, we ran into our plant orientation, you know, you don't have gravity. With the LED lighting, we were able to utilize that to orient the plants the way we want them. And by providing the proper watering environment, the roots on you can pretty much control the morphology of the plant, but you're delivering water microgravity. Actually, most of the systems falling today are particular days, using sub irrigation technologies and pressure control to using capillary forces move water in and out of the soil when you're trying to make the jump To a large scale system, you know that logistically, you just can't deal with that much massive clay particles or soil particles that they could escape. You know what happens after they kind of get used up, you can't really change them out, you can't clean them up very conveniently. So that's what we're looking at transitioning to the aeroponic type systems.

Dan Reus:

are there are those in you know, because aeroponics is obviously huge on earth? And you know, but, you know, you're not just delivering water that can be, you know, collected from systems on the ISS or whatever, you know, you also need the, you know, the macro and micronutrients that need to be part of that water hot, you know, is is there work going on with the inputs and SCADA Is that something that's an opportunity for somebody to be working on. So think about the inputs for aeroponics

Scot Bryson:

the the inputs into how nutrients are being delivered to these different plants, how we're being now they're being captured, and utilized, NASA has done a significant amount of work in this area, that do have applications back here on Earth as well. So that those are, you know, areas that we're interested in, you know, where we can capture from wastewater streams where we can capture nitrogen. What we look at, as well. And we think is also very interesting for space applications is actually aquaponic systems, where you can have a symbiotic relationship between plants and fish, and develop that microbiome in the water, that can actually be beneficial to plant growth, and replicate sort of what happens here on Earth, in a control sort of way. I think it's offered very interesting species to operate in, in the space domain, which I think, Well, we've already done experiments that we but Jackson's done experiments with, with fish on the ISS, going through multi generally generational studies, fish have been flown back in the 70s and 80s. In space. So we've got a good understanding of these in microgravity. But I think they'll also be very adaptable into partial gravity scenarios, which, which is where we're focused.

Dan Reus:

You know, it's interesting, I'm aware of esa did the molissa project or regenerative system for thinking about, you know, capturing from waste streams, you know, nutrients that were valuable as inputs? Bob, have you guys seen those kinds of efforts to integrate regenerative stuff to collect the inputs to make, you know, aquaponic and aeroponic systems work? or?

Bob Morrow:

Yeah, I mean, we haven't really worked directly in that area, there's a lot of work intermittently going on, looking at that, you know, right now, we're kind of more in the applied phase. So we're getting the mechanics behind the fluid physics and so forth, worked out into the hardware. You know, we're, we're mixing a standard nutrient solution on order but that's all we supply, you know, we're not recovering it. Earlier payloads would recycle the water but not the nutrients.

Dan Reus:

So that's probably an area that's an area for somebody that's listening to think about is how to how to do that nutrient capture, you know, for Regenerative growth in that kind of setting, but also to develop that for here on Earth. You know, municipal waste streams could be powerful inputs for indoor growing,

Scot Bryson:

and, and outdoor growing, you know, there there, there are companies that are are doing this today, where they they set up and capture phosphorus that that's runoff, then reapplying that to becoming a commercial fertilizer system products, you know that so we've got a lot of really great opportunities there. And even in the space domain, you know, there was an experiment that Isa conducted I believe out of out of Germany, and it was a program called EU crop this and it was a satellite launched off of the Falcon nine and I believe it was December 2019. And this is a rotating satellite that that spun up to simulate lunar gravity and then it accelerated to to simulate Martian gravity and and operated in that in that environment for six months at a time each and so that included both the plant growth chambers but then also converting a simulated urine into the the fertilizer to grow those crops over that time period, now that it had failures and in some of the internal mechanisms, so unfortunately, that experiment from the plant growth side of things didn't actually happened. There were other experiments that were part of that. But that's that those types of experiments are things that we need to see happen, you know, many more times, for us to get a solid confidence in in, you know, not bringing all of our food with us and depending on and living on these life support systems and food production systems.

Dan Reus:

That's awesome. Want to pause here just a second and give thanks again to the Danforth plant science center. This podcast is sponsored by the Danforth plant science center, committed to growing the 39, North innovation district 39, North stl.com. So I want to shift a little bit. So it's clear that scat some of these really exciting things that are going on are things that really started decades ago. And I'm just wondering, you know, if we think about the talent, you know, the people that you know, aspire to work in these areas. And, Bob, I'm gonna get back to you and ask you the same question. But somebody's working right now, you know, working right now started getting inspired years ago. So if we think about somebody in junior high, right now has the potential to do their education and eventually be working in those these domains in a way that we can't possibly imagine, you know, in 10, or 15 years, when they get active in their career? What are the kinds of things that they're going to be working on? And what are the ways that those people can prepare? And how can we help prepare them?

Scot Bryson:

It's a really good question. So there are so many exciting areas to do. And, and to work on, you know, from robotics and automation, and the shorter term, you know, people that are that are, you know, looking to go into colleges and universities, you know, understanding better robotic systems and automation systems are really interesting. And that's a really cool place, that does still need a significant amount of work. But, you know, in some of the earlier and deeper work that really needs to happen, you know, we've talked a lot about waste streams, but I really believe, you know, terrestrially, here on Earth, as well as applied in space, we have so many gaps, so many components that, you know, we're really not, we're not there from developing the capabilities, we have many different solutions, and you can take some of these waste streams and go to energy sources. And waste to energy is, is, you know, a commercial business today. But that's a low value way of reusing some of these waste streams. So I would really, you know, counsel people to start looking into really synthetic biology areas and understanding how microbes can convert these waste streams into, you know, way more useful components and compounds. So you can think about the plant biomass, the the roots and the stems and the leaves, and converting those into something either extracting nutrients that are out of it, and converting having having single celled organisms that can convert those into into other products and materials. There's unlimited possibilities with these. So that's definitely a really big area of focus that I would significantly suggest, I think, look a lot into the cellular agriculture industry. That's this is, this is what I believe is really going to be a shift in our global mindset. And we're going to look at animal agriculture, in the way that we conduct animal agriculture today, it's not it's not going to disappear. Animals can are a key part of our ecosystem.

Dan Reus:

So bad, I'm gonna go to you. I'm somebody that's in junior high now, how can they get involved in this? And what kinds of things could they be working on? And do we need them working on as they get into their career? Well,

Bob Morrow:

in addition to the biological aspects that Scott just mentioned, there are really two fundamental problems inhibiting you know, expansion in the space, radiation and power. Power Systems are not currently sufficient to support any kind of size, activity in space and radiation outside The low Earth orbit area is a really significant problem, especially for long duration. And for which there's not a good answer yet. And so those are two areas that, you know, I'm sure they'll still be problems back when those kids are growing. So they'll those have been the kind of things that are addressing and need to be addressed. And hopefully, we'll see some major breakthroughs in that area. As far as how can they prepare? You know, one interesting trend is, some of the professional societies now are encouraging upper level grade school kids and high school kids even to attend annual meetings, you know, they'll make special, a special session where they can come and tour or they can give a poster or, you know, show a project that they've done. Some companies are providing some access for experiments on orbit to physically put together small experiments. So those kinds of things you allow, these kids come in and see kind of a professional environment and all the displays and hear people talk about it. That can elicit a lot of enthusiasm for going into the field. And, and they can learn, you know, what, what do people study? You know, what people do in their jobs? You know, what kind of people do so I think we'll see more of that.

Dan Reus:

That's great. I want to thank you, gentlemen, this has been great. I have one final question. And also your opportunity to Hey, Dan, you forgot to ask us this. But But I do want to mention this podcast was sponsored by the Donald Danforth plant science center, host of Ag tech, next, ag tech next.org. And the Donald Danforth plant science center is a great friend, and really amazing to see the concentration of people working in these fields in the amazing facilities. But I want to ask, I want to close with this, is there anything that we didn't talk about that you think is really vital. And secondly, this is shout out who's doing great stuff, either companies or people or a great point of view, or a great opportunity, like what's really exciting to you, that you've seen, that we need to give recognition to and kind of give some visibility to start, I'll start with you.

Scot Bryson:

So, you know, something that, that I really think that this area, and why focusing in on food, it was even a part of my journey. I think, I think food offers a very interesting component in our lives, it's incredibly personal. It's tied to our family history to our parent, the way we've grown up and our parents. But it's the thing that really we bond together with people, you know, when we, when we're sitting down with friends and family, we typically meet over meals, and we share over meals when we travel. And we go and experience food from new cultures. And it's a really key part that ties humanity together. And it's very deeply rooted in our psyche. And I think that's a really important thing when we're trying to think about huge system change from a society perspective. And on that same note, how that applies to climate change. You know, food is the thing that we have the capability of impacting our carbon footprint significantly by choosing the food sources where food is, is being sourced from, if it's coming from a local place, that can have a massive impact much more than going and buying an electric car or vehicle, that impact can have a significant impact on your local economy, but also the the larger climate perspective. And that shift shift and change can happen three times every single day, more purchase frequency than anything else in our lives. And there's almost a billion people that are starving today. And tomorrow, there are over 6 million people, you know, we're in mid September, there's over 6 million people that have died already this year of, of hunger. And to me, this is just a complete, like this is not an acceptable situation where we've gotten ourselves to. And so I think this this focus on understanding food systems and understanding different components. And the space industry offers this capability of tying life support systems, which is critical to every human life and that's going to eventually be living in space, but also every life here on earth. And what I truly think that that is an opportunity here on the table and that we're trying to champion is that I think this can be the next type of International Space Station project. I think the life support systems groups from every space agency around the world who have done extensive research and work in the US. Universities in the agriculture universities and the farmers that are present in every country on the planet, I think this can become a unifying type of project where we can all contribute, every nation can contribute some component to a specific type of crop that's local and key to it to a specific, specific food that they love. a controlled environment component that can produce food locally and help secure supply chains for some of these corporations and companies, it really becomes its inclusive thing. And so I really wanted to, you know, leave with that thought, you know, that, that that's a big component of something that I'm trying to change.

Dan Reus:

And anybody you really admire the work that they're doing, that others ought to know about, or just people doing great things, technically are around the details to make all the stuff we're talking about happen. Or funding. Yeah,

Scot Bryson:

I mean, you know, the, the, the way that I got started, and all of this was through the lens of climate change, and tackling hunger, and the company that I admired the most in the world was CEO Lisa Dyson, and converting their their commercializing this technology that NASA developed in like late 1960s, that convert co2 into protein, protein. And what I learned first learned about this, it completely blew my mind. And it completely changed the trajectory of my career, it completely changed, you know, my thinking in terms of systems and systems change. And so I think, you know, the ability and the commercialization of that technology can have a transformational effect on our planet. And, you know, which is a component of what we're trying to do at orbital farm. So you know, that's definitely a shattered company, I want to mention

Dan Reus:

a great Lisa's doing some wonderful work the team there, Bob, any people, researchers, organizations that you've read, that you've seen that you really want to give a shout out to that you think are doing really great work or are becoming great partners to others and doing great work in these areas.

Bob Morrow:

Oh, that's kind of a hard won. The I think, Gary Willer Kennedy Space Center with a plant life support. I mean, he's been kind of a focal point for decades on the advanced life support and plant work that NASA has been doing. And but I, I guess one of the things I'd like to show like the a couple of societies, you know, the research groups that need like the American Society for gravitational space research, that's a large, relatively large gathering of biologists and physical sciences, people that get together and network. And that's one of the things that's kind of led to some of the new water delivery systems as physical sciences people, you know, work with biologists, how do you control water movement, without training a lot of these Kepler geometries that were developed, and anything else came out of those kinds of collaborations? And so those things are those kind of meetings and groups help sustain? I think the interest you know, you're working through the year, you're just having that ability to network with all the people working in different aspects to see what's needed. What are people doing, how you apply that to advancing the overall goal of developing systems.

Dan Reus:

That's, that's wonderful. I'm going to close with that, you know, advancing these systems and these systems are, are starting to have real impact on earth. And as well as impact for as we put more and more people into space. And, you know, I think that it's great. You know, this has been a great episode, Bob Morrow with Sierra space, or Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Scott Bryson with orbital farm. And thank you so much for talking to us about these, you know, bio systems, these, you know, for growing plants that we're seeing in space, the benefits that that's having on earth and the benefits that's having as we become a spaceport and people. And, you know, it's very exciting stuff. I want to thank you again for your time and ask our audience to tune in in two weeks when our next episode will be back when we've got two more innovators talking about really exciting stuff. Stay tuned for that. And thank you again.

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About the Podcast

Unconventional Growth
For the founders of our future food systems.
Unconventional Growth is a weekly conversations podcast about the future of food and ag that highlights innovators, technologies and disruptors creating future agrifood systems - CEA, plant based proteins, cellular ag, biomaterials, and circular growing systems and economies.

About your host

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Daniel Reus

Dan Reus is perpetually curious, optimistic, and a lover of the transformative power of stories to bring about change that benefits us all. As founder and chief instigator at Openly Disruptive, he helps build innovation ecosystems, working with innovators and their supporters in areas like food, ag, consumer products/services/communities, health, platform ecosystems, and advanced manufacturing.