February 22, 2024

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Singapore Opens Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming

Image credits: news.nus.edu.sg

In response to the need for indoor urban farming solutions, the National University of Singapore (NUS) officially opened the Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming (SUrF) to bring together the diverse expertise of principal investigators from across the University to develop new science and technology-based solutions for urban farming in the country.

“NUS is committed to making significant contributions towards Singapore’s food policy agenda, together with partners in the public sector and the industry. We aim to create a globally competitive research programme in sustainable urban farming that incorporates smart agriculture solutions for diverse stakeholders,” says Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS President.

A core team from the domains of science, engineering, and computing makes up SUrF, a research organisation that focuses on sustainable urban farming. This exclusive group of researchers has experience in a variety of topics, including plant science, genomics and gene editing, microbiomes, food science, materials and polymer science, sensor technologies, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor farming.

The team will start multidisciplinary programmes to build a cross-boundary, sustainable platform for improving plant performance both before and after harvest, including harvest yield, nutritional profile, and safety assurance.

A new facility for the Centre, with around 200 square metres of indoor plant growth area for research, is planned to be completed by early 2023.

There will be three growth rooms and an additional precision growth room where environmental parameters such as temperature and light spectrum can be changed to promote better plant growth with potentially improved phytonutrients.

PlantEye, a non-destructive phenotyping device for monitoring plant development and recording plant health, as well as many analytical tools for studying nutrient content, will be part of the research equipment.

The Centre will also have access to NUS’s cutting-edge laboratories for molecular genetics research, including gene editing.

Furthermore, SUrF’s research focuses on three stages of food production: before, during, and after production. The goal of the Centre is to come up with solutions for growers and work with local businesses to meet their needs.

Post-harvest interventions can also help improve the nutritional value and microbial safety of food. According to preliminary findings, LED lighting not only removes organisms that cause spoiling but also increases the nutritional quality of green crops.

The team’s next steps will be to develop LED illumination technology specifically for green vegetables typically consumed in Singapore, as well as to test their technique in simulated retail circumstances.

In addition, there are 16 principal investigators in SUrF from the NUS Departments of Biological Science, Food Science and Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science. They oversee about 10 research projects.

One of these projects is trying to make it easier to grow leafy greens in cities. Most crops grown on indoor farms aren’t good for controlled environments because they were grown in the field. This makes growing plants indoors ineffective and unsustainable, with a low yield.

Researchers are looking into new ways to breed plants, such as genomic selection and gene editing, to make leafy vegetable varieties with traits that work well in controlled environments. This is done to improve the quality and productivity of agriculture.

On the other hand, the team made bio-inoculants of bacteria that help plants grow. These can be used in different farming situations, such as when plants are grown in soil, peat, or coconut fibres, or when hydroponic systems are used.

This could help crops grow better and be more resilient in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment. It could also reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.

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