MEDIA: Underwater Vegetable Patch – University of Copenhagen

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07 August 2015

MEDIA: Underwater Vegetable Patch


An underwater vegetbale patch has been established off the coast of Italy. Birger Lindberg Møller discusses the opportunities and difficulties of growing plants underwater.

The underwater garden, called l’Orto di Nemo, is made from an airfilled bell or 'biosphere' which is filled with growing trays, and anchored 6 metres underwater to the seabed. The founder, Sergio Gamberini, reports that basil, strawberries and beans, amongst other things, are growing surprising well. 

Plants are the answer
In Weekendavisen, Head of Center for Synthetic Biology Birger Lindberg Møller comments on the future of such projects:

"I am always fascinated by new ideas for using plants, which are the answer to many of the global challenges we face including food, bioenergy, climate change and medicine."

"I imagine that this cultivation system may be suitable for some special productions. Remember how much people laughed at the idea of ​​aquaculture in its time, and now look at the proportion of the fish we eat today that produced by aquaculture."

Plants not immune to attack
However, there may be some drawbacks to the cultivation method including new plant enemies found in water:

"There are a lot of micro organisms in the soil that is used for growing, and a lot happens in the sea too. There's a reason that algae and seaweed grows everywhere, so there might be some problems."

"Also, you will probably have problems because the air in the bubbles will just disappear into the water, so you will continually have to add new air. But I'm not saying that these problems can't be overcome."

Why are they growing so well?
There is a theory that the plants are growing well due to a higher rate of CO2 absorption at the higher underwater pressure, but Møller is skeptical about this, suggesting it may be to do with something else entirely:

"The constant evaporation means consistantly high humidity levels, so the plants can afford to have their stomata open more because there is no risk that much water will evaporate from them. But this might also mean that that plants become more susceptible to, for example, attack by fungi which enter through the stomata"

The full article is available in print only.