PS Seminar Series: Redesigning plants to support long-term Space exploration and for on Earth sustainability

Abstract: Humans are planning to explore Space further than ever before, with a return to the lunar surface happening as part of the Artemis III mission in 2025, and with a crewed landing planned for the surface of Mars in the 2030s. Important to this is the ability to support astronauts to thrive in space, as opposed to just survive. Food is a key part of this, and with ~10 tonnes of food required for a 4-person mission to Mars, there is an urgent need to produce food in situ. Growth of plants on planetary surfaces will be in closed environment agriculture (CEA) facilities, similar to vertical farming systems being developed here on Earth. However, plants did not evolve to grow in these environments. Here, I will discuss how we can use the lens of Space to innovate for sustainable agriculture and to develop in planta biomanufacturing, as we look to transition to a robust bioeconomy.

Biography: Jenny Mortimer is Associate Professor of Plant Synthetic Biology at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine & The Waite Research Institute. She is also an Affiliate Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, and a Director of Plant Systems Biology at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, USA. After completing her PhD at Cambridge University, UK, she began exploring how engineering the plant cell wall could deliver sustainable and economically viable biofuels: first as a postdoc in Cambridge, then as a research fellow at RIKEN Japan, before joining Berkeley Lab in 2014, and Adelaide in 2021. Her team’s research focuses on understanding and manipulating plant cell metabolism, with a focus on complex glycosylation. The goal is to develop crops which contribute to a sustainable and renewable bioeconomy.

At Adelaide, her group is using synthetic biology to develop new crops for food and materials production in controlled growth environments – including for Space settlement, as part of the newly formed ARC Centre of Excellence Plants for Space (P4S), and applying new agricultural biotechnologies to develop resilient field crops as part of the ARC Training Centre for Future Crops Development. In the US, her group works to reengineer the plant cell wall for the sustainable production of fuels and biochemicals from biomass, and to enhance plant-microbiome interactions for sustainable biomass crop production. She was selected as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist (2016/17), where she contributed to the WEF Code of Ethics for Researchers (, and she is a Handling editor for Plant Cell Physiology and Plant Cell Reports. Twitter @Jenny_Mortimer1/Mastdon, and more about her research here: .