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Orchids in orbit: Seeds tested in space

By Hu Meidong in Fuzhou | | Updated: 2021-06-18 20:07
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Almost 30 grams of Nanjing orchid seeds were carried into space for breeding tests, accompanying three Chinese astronauts in China's Shenzhou XII manned spaceship, which was launched on Thursday. The seeds will be in space for three months.

A red orchid variety, Hongcao, features red buds and seedlings, a popular variant from Nanjing county of Fujian province.

It was selected and bred by the provincial testing center for forestry science and technology, which is affiliated with the Fujian Bureau of Forestry.

Since 2016, the center has been working with the flower research institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of Yunnan province to carry out research on the breeding of Nanjing orchids in space. 

About 100 grams of seeds were carried with the Tiangong II manned spacecraft via a Long March 5B large rocket and the Shenzhou XII, resulting in two sterile germinated strains.

Space breeding has been widely applied to innovations in the agricultural industry. Because of its higher probability of genetic variation, this method can cultivate new varieties of orchids with longer bloom cycles and better appearance and fragrance over ordinary ones.

For the experiment, researchers take advantage of the unique conditions of space, including cosmic radiation, the vacuum and microgravity to change the seeds' chromosome structure for laboratory tissue cultivation. Eventually the process generates new varieties.

Later, the testing center will continue to research mutant varieties of orchids, as well as cloning and functional analysis of its mutant genes to enhance the establishment of a regular breeding system for orchids.

Feng Xiaojie contributed to this story.

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