Duckweed floating in pond Duckweed floating in pond

FFAR Grant Improves Plant-based Protein’s Production and Nutritional Content

  • Next Generation Crops

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. (Dec. 19, 2022) – Plant-based protein is a low-carbon, accessible option to diversify dietary intake. Most of the plant-based proteins on the market today are produced from seed-based crops such as soy and nuts, which are often deficient in one or more key amino acids. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $750,000 Seeding Solutions grant to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), which, in partnership with Crop One Holdings (COH), is adapting high-protein, amino-acid rich aquatic Lemnaceae plants for controlled environments to improve nutritional value and increase production. CSHL and COH are providing matching funds for a total $1.5 million investment.

Lemnaceae, also known as duckweeds, are uniquely suited for the human diet and can supplement our protein needs as the global demand for protein grows. This research is helping to improve their nutritional value and bring improved controlled environment agriculture technology to bear on expanding their availability to consumers.

Lemnaceae have high protein levels that contain amino acid compositions more like animal protein than other plant protein sources, giving them a well-balanced profile for human nutrition. The entire plant body is edible and grows quickly, and the plants are currently used as an affordable source of protein in Southeast Asia.

While Lemnaceae have been cultivated outdoors, researchers have not yet transitioned the crop to a controlled aquatic environment. Additionally, controlled environment agriculture is often not economically viable compared to traditional, outdoor farming. Further research is needed to refine and adapt existing controlled environment agriculture infrastructure to aquatic crops, allowing optimal growth and lower cost.

The Martienssen lab at CSHL is partnering with COH to advance the year-round cultivation, harvesting and commercial production of highly nutritious Lemnaceae plants. The research focuses on optimizing sets of readily tunable genetic and environmental inputs – germplasm selection and development, light, heat, water and CO2 concentration – that maximize outputs, including overall biomass production and amino acid composition.

“We’re eager to work closely alongside the Martienssen lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to adapt and extend existing technology in controlled environment agriculture to the year-round cultivation, harvesting, and commercial product optimization of Lemnaceae aquatic plants,” said Dr. Deane Falcone, chief scientific officer at COH. “Our work will undoubtedly help increase access and meet the growing demands for more nutritious, sustainable foods, while easing the burden on plant and animal protein production systems.”

In addition to the positive implications for the human diet, controlled environment-grown, plant-based protein is more sustainable than traditionally grown outdoor crops, using up to 95% less water, and can be grown free of chemical pesticides. Controlled environment-grown crops also have longer shelf lives, reducing food waste. “Plant-based proteins are poised to significantly reduce agricultural carbon emissions,” said Dr. Rob Martienssen, principal investigator on the project.

“We are excited to work with Crop One to translate our basic discoveries and genetic technology to scalable CEA solutions,” said project manager Dr. Evan Ernst.

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

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About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,000 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program hosts more than 12,000 scientists from around the world each year on its campuses in Long Island and in Suzhou, China. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and programs for middle, high school, and undergraduate students and teachers. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu

About Crop One

Headquartered outside of Boston, Mass., Crop One is a technology-driven indoor vertical farming company on a mission to cultivate a sustainable future to meet global demand for fresh, local, and safe food. Through its Plants-First™ approach and industry-leading technology platform, Crop One grows fresh, delicious leafy greens using 95% less water than field-grown produce. Because the growth of crops takes place in entirely sealed and controlled environments, growing and harvesting can happen 365 days a year, regardless of the season. Crop One sells its fresh, local produce under the FreshBox Farms brand, available at a variety of retailers across southern New England, and brings its technology and infrastructure to ECO 1, the world’s largest vertical farm, located in Dubai, UAE.