NASA - Open Source Agriculture Innovations


Shoutout to the awesome team at OpenAg as well as our #nerdfarmer comrades at FarmBot.

Super cool video about how NASA is utilizing and working with open-source platforms to figure out how to grow food in space and eventually Mars.

@AstroCube @thiemehennis @adrianlu @TechBrainstorm

Growing Plants in Space - MARSfarm Curriculum

thanks a lot! Good materials also to get our message on the importance of open source around.


This is awesome!

Outredgeous is an open source variety of lettuce that was used by NASA in space. This variety of lettuce, or at least the offspring of that variety, now called ‘Outstanding’ is listed on the OSSI website as an open source pledged variety. OSSI for those who do not know stands for Open Source Seed Initiative.


GAAAHHHH!!! Thank you @BioLumo. This is great!

I’m curious what your thoughts are on CRISPR/Cas Tools. l am naive to the world of genetics but the concept of open-source seeds/breeding fascinates me. I’m a genetics noob so I’d love to get more of that conversation going here so I can learn. I’m not sure how the legal world of open-source data works, but I’m sure at some point open-source GMO’s will be a point of discussion (perhaps it already is).

That’s super interesting about Outredgeous lettuce. To add a little more to that story, another participant at this event was Fairchild Botanical Gardens who runs the “Growing Beyond Earth” program. This NASA paper talks about the Outredgeous lettuce, but the link to the supplier isn’t available. I suggest you watch this TED talk by the director of education there.


Cool thanks peter!

I will have to come back and take a look at the papers you linked to as well as the ted talk.

Sure, not sure what specific thoughts you were hoping to get, but yeah the CRISPR stuff is the hot new thing on the block lately and seems to be on the cusp of changing every industry related to genetics. Biomedical applications, plant genetics, you name it it sounds like pretty sweet stuff. So i expect it to continue to be the new tool of the trade.

Cool. Yeah. I am new to the world of hydroponic / fogponic agriculture systems. I just use plain ol’ dirt right now. But i’m sure if done right the hydro stuff is a great way to do things. In my experience with growing things just in my back yard is that adapting plants to the environment rather than trying to adapt the environment to the plant (which is basically one main use of a food computer) while hard initially has a better payoff in the long run. That’s not to say that breeding specific varieties for indoor growing and/or food computers isn’t worthwhile. One idea i had related to this is lettuce. Let’s take lettuce for example. What types of lettuce are people using and what works best? Is one variety high in anthocyanins (red color) and do the red lettuces do better with artificial lighting than green? Do some varieties take up nutrients better and have a larger root system that is predisposed because of gentics? Most people seem to be using Romane type lettuce varieties. Would head lettuce work better in an hydroponic environment? Would combining all of these ideas into one help skyrocket the production of a food computer growing lettuce. I personally would like to try head lettuces for this just to see if they are easier to grow in this manner. In addition there is a Red head lettuce available from Peace Seeds in Oregon that i think i’m gonna get seeds for.

My understanding of the Open Source Seeds and legality from talking to different people about it is this:

  1. There are actually two similar open source seed initiatives working at the same time but taking different approaches. The first is OSSI based in the U.S. they decided to use a pledge system of stating that certain varieites of seeds are open source available to use by the public, sell by the public, share by the public with out patenting and restricting the use of that variety to anybody. That also includes breeding and any future varieties bred with it must have the same license. But it is a pledge and probably carries no legal weight on its own. However i read somewhere that the big seed companies like Monsanto and Syngenta, etc. have put out statements that Open Source Seed Varieties give them the heebie jeebies and heavily muddies the water so they have a policy to stay away of them anyway. To make sure they don’t get into some legal trouble just in case.

  2. the other Open Source seeds thing is based in Europe. Germany i think and is trying to use German Civil law to help protect open source seed varieties with a lightweight legally enforceable option that should be recognized globally.

And yeah, Open Source GMOs could totally be a thing. GMO crops are not all the same and should never be viewed the same. I personally a skeptical of the crops containing the BT toxin, but i am not skeptical or weary of most other GMO crops such as the orange rice that has vitamin A added to it to help prevent blindness in third world countries with lack of variable diets. So GMOs can be both bad or good when analyzed from a case by case basis. Some GMO projects were dangerous like the one that used a protien from Brazil Nuts and added it to something else. They inadvertently introduced the allergy of brazil nuts to a new food which could have potentially killed someone.

Add CRISPR to that conversation and you have a safer technology in that it only changes things withing a species. No cross genetics or transgenic nature and the fact that some don’t even consider CRISPR GMOs at all and consider it no different than traditional breeding, just faster and more controllable. But yeah, Open Source GMOs could be a thing. Also Landrace adapted organic GMOs could also be a thing, despite some peoples initial thinking that “Organic” prohibits GMOs. Not so, at least not in theory. I forget what “Organic” actually means but it is very different that what people think it means.

Sure, while i’m not an expert by any means, genetics is sort of my jam and i love talking about it and learning new things related to it. Ask an questions you want and i will try to answer them if i know anything about it.



This is great, I appreciate the detailed explanation. We are asking the exact same questions here. Something I’ve been introduced to is the incredible world of grafting. Apparently, Missouri grapevine rootstock was grafted onto most varieties of grapevines now used for wine production in Europe because of their resistance to rot and pests. I’m also very curious about these “Frankenplants” and how perhaps the root zone could be optimized independently of the canopy when using CEA.

You should definitely check out that NASA paper, it goes hand in hand with what you were saying regarding lettuce. What I really like about it though is that they offer a weighing scale by which to actually rank and make decisions about which varieties to grow in space.


Cool. I don’t know what CEA stands for but that reminds me of the using wild tomatoes as rootstock to get roots that are resistant to bugs and diseases (as well as larger or faster growing plants sometimes). Solanum habrochaites is the most common one, but work was done with Solanum peruvianum and Solanum pennellii both desert adapted wild tomatoes. Solanum peruvianum is supposed to have a deep root system that is drought resistant. Solanum pennellii does not but has drought resistant leaves. I grew an F1 solanum pennellii hybrid this year and it was HUGE! The largest tomato plant i have ever seen in person. The F2 is growing inside now and is also huge in it’s pot of dirt.

I also am interested in grafting, but i have pretty much no experience with it directly. We have a few fruit trees that have multiple apple or pear varieties but that came grafted already from the nursery. I guess i will just need to experiment with it. I may start with cacti/succulents first, and move my way up from there.

Since you mentioned grafting and roots and “frankenplants” you may be highly interested in a new area i am learning about. It is called Wide Hybridization and a lot of it builds on the work of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin from the Soviet Union USSR. So a simple explanation is that generally plants (and animals) are not breedable over species barriers. Hence why they are called separate species. BUT… this is not always true. And sometimes natural barriers can be overcome. Which goes to muddy the waters of what really is a species then. There are lumpers and there are splitters, people who lump sspecies together into one and those who like to split them up all arbitrarily. Michurin apparently did even cooler experiments with this and combined it with grafting. So one method to overcome barriers is to use a mix of pollen. Then sometimes enough compatible pollen is accepted and sometimes the incompatible pollen sneaks in and creates new weird hybrids. What Michurin discovered is that another method you can try is grafting these two together and after they have grown together for some time then try crossing between the two grafted plants. The theory here is that the sap might be sort of like an immune system. And by grafting we can get one plant to sort of “get used” to the chemicals and molecules present in the other variety. Then when you go to cross with pollen the plant recognizes it and accepts the pollen when normally it would turn it away.

There is a book a bunch of us are currently reading on the Homegrown Goodness forum about these wide crosses. You may want to find a copy through worldcat and your local public library systems. I checked mine out from CSU through interlibrary loan. I have tried to scan a bunch of it here in this PDF, but there is a lot more in the book! Like perennial grains and other stuff. Thank you USSR!! The reason someone mentioned this book is because of a new plant breeding project i have started. I am crossing domestic watermelons with the sort-of wild Citron Melon. There are so many possibilities this could create such as frost tolerant watermelons or watermelons that store into the winter like a squash! This book from the USSR mentions those kind of crosses at the very end of the book!

Title: Wide hybridization of plants : (Otdalennaya gibridizatsiya rastenii) Proceedings of the Conference on Wide Hybridization of Plants and Animals; collection of reports
Author: Soveshchanie po otdalennoĬ gibridizat︠s︡ii rasteniĬ i zhivotnykh ((1956 : Moscow, R.S.F.S.R.)
Nikolaĭ Vasilʹevich T︠S︡it︠s︡in 1898-; National Science Foundation (U.S.); Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR.; Vsesoi︠u︡znai︠a︡ akademii︠a︡ selʹskokhozi︠a︡ĭstvennykh nauk imeni V.I. Lenina.
Subjects: Plant hybridization
Publisher: Jerusalem, Published for the National Science Foundation, Washington, by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations; available from Office of Technical Services, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Washington
Creation Date: 1962
Format: 364 pages : illustrations, tables. ; 25 cm.
Language: English;Russian