Imagine a plant you can grow in the barren oil fields of West Texas that when you process its berries, jet fuel worth billions of dollars comes out. And that crop is there because of America’s space program.
That’s what Richard Godwin and his Florida-based company, Zero Gravity Solutions Inc. (ZGSI), are hoping to make possible. The company, which just went public, is using space-based genetic research to modify a tropical plant called jatropha curcas to grow in the cooler environment of West Texas. The plant’s berries could produce up to five to six tons of fuel per hectare.
The key to the project has been experiments conducted on a series of space shuttle flights using a technique called “directed gene expression”. When plants are exposed to a microgravity environment, they perceive a threat and go into a survival mode. In the process, they activate genes that are normally dormant in a 1 gravity environment, Godwin said last week during the NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif.