“Space peppers” grown by the University of Debrecen (UD) in the space capsule Capsitron, on display at the exhibition Álmok Álmodói 20, have been harvested recently. The closed crop production ecosystem used in the research project DE SPACE has indeed produced delectable and crunchy vegetables. In fact, experts from UD participating in the project have studied several pepper species with the aim of selecting the ones that promised the largest yield in the smallest area with zero emission.

It was at the beginning of March that space peppers provided by NASA’s were planted in Biodrome, the experimental greenhouse of DE MÉK [Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management of the University of Debrecen]. In addition to the American chile/chili pepper NuMex Espanola Improved, our researchers also started the testing of a Hungarian space pepper variety bred by the university and named Hungarian Enigma Sweet (HES).

“In the experimental greenhouse of UD, we test and examine the pepper breeds under special conditions. Since the growth of HES is genetically determined, it does not require human intervention, such as the so-called green pruning. During the examination of the green foliage of this pepper variety, it has been found that its biomass contains several bioactive substances that are wholesome and fit for human consumption. The leaves taste very much like those of rocket salad (Arugula),” said Miklós Fári, Professor at the Department of Applied Plant Biology, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management, University of Debrecen, to hirek.unideb.hu.

The head of the closed crop production ecosystem research group of UD also added that the American variety had already been spent to space following the preliminary experiments conducted by NASA. However, as Espanola is fast and continuously growing, its volume utilization efficiency is not optimal. In a closely circumscribable space, such as a capsule, it needs to be pruned, during which process its flowers are also removed, which results in decreasing crop yields.

“We have conducted comparative analyses in both Biodrome and Capsitron, and found that Espanola had to be pruned twice in the latter of the two locations because it simply overgrew its APH (Advanced Plant Habitat). As regards HES, this kind of intervention was not necessary since, under the limited circumstances, we do not focus the energy of production on growing stems and leaves, thus generating unnecessary green waste, but we rather concentrate on multiplying the crop yield,” said Miklós Fári.

The experimental greenhouse of MÉK is also the location for testing the space pepper variety Hydrospace, which is considered one of the most important parts of space plant research conducted within the program called DE-SPACE. The technical designing and implementation of Capsitron has been carried out by a recently founded Hungarian biotechnological start-up called jFermi Kft.

“We planted the seeds into seedboxes built in 3D printers, containing a special mixture of soil that partially imitates moon rock, where they germinated in a matter of 10 days. Irrigation was taken care of by a system that circulates deionized water and a special nutrient solution 24/7, providing it for the plants through a waterwick. This entire process is fully automated and the closed crop production ecosystem is kept clean exclusively through biological methods. In sum, the Biodrome of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management at UD indeed implements a true recirculation ecosystem, in which the production of plant raw material is carried out from the cell stage to that of the final product without any by-products or waste whatsoever, and in an environmental-friendly manner,” said the professor of the Department of Applied Plant Biology of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management.

Miklós Fári also highlighted that the legacy of Albert Szent-Györgyi would thus continue to prevail even today to determine the features of Hungarian pepper science, which is regarded to be at the vanguard of its related research field worldwide. As regards the practical results and findings of the research project conducted by DE MÉK, they are expected to be transferable by the beginning of the year 2023. All the relevant know-how and research findings have been duly deposited at the department called Technológia Hasznosítási Osztály [Department of Technological Utilization].

Press Office - ÉE