UK – Researchers at the University of Essex, UK, are pioneering a cutting-edge approach to agriculture by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to monitor plants and enhance photosynthesis, aiming to cultivate climate-resilient crops for the future.

Spearheaded by project lead Tracy Lawson, Professor of Plant Physiology, the initiative seeks to address the pressing need for sustainable food production amid a rapidly growing global population.

The university’s Smart Technology Experimental Plant Suite (STEPS) houses a state-of-the-art facility, including a commercially standard vertical farm, an indoor field replicating diverse environmental conditions, and temperature-controlled suites to simulate rising global temperatures.

This comprehensive setup allows researchers to precisely control variables such as CO2 concentration and temperature rise levels, facilitating groundbreaking research into plant adaptation to climate change.

With the world population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, Lawson emphasizes the urgency of enhancing agricultural productivity, sustainability, and resilience. The STEPS center is poised to play a pivotal role in developing climate-resilient plants, ensuring future food security for a growing global population.

The university’s Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC) fosters collaboration among farmers, technologists, and scientists to enhance crop resilience to drought, increase yields, and secure the food chain during extreme weather events.

This collaborative approach ensures that research outcomes are directly applicable to real-world agricultural practices, with opportunities for young scientists to contribute to groundbreaking projects.

The project has garnered significant support from industry partners, including the Wolfson Foundation, which pledged £1 million (US$1.25 million) to support the development of the STEPS center.

Collaboration with British agriculture innovator Innovation Agritech Group (IAG) has facilitated the deployment of advanced GrowFrame360 technology unique to UK universities. This technology empowers scientists and students to address the complexities of climate change on future crop production.

Global efforts towards climate-resilient agriculture

The World Bank estimates that global food demand is to increase to feed a projected global population of 9.7 billion people by 2050. Yet food systems are the leading source of methane emissions, further thwarting efforts to mitigate climate change.

As such, the University of Essex’s research aligns with global efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture.

Innovations such as Nestlé‘s use of data science and AI to identify climate-resilient coffee plants, gene-editing techniques for temperature-tolerant crops, and USDA research on enhancing potato crops underscore the importance of proactive measures in ensuring food security amid changing environmental conditions.

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