China launches vines in space to beat harsh climate

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China has flown vines into orbit on its new ‘space palace’ laboratory, Tiangong-2, to experiment with vines’ resistance to drought and cold weather.

Image: the Launch of Long March FT2 carrier rocket and Tiangong 2, credit China Manned Space Program
Image: the Launch of Long March FT2 carrier rocket and Tiangong 2, credit China Manned Space Program

China launched Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir vines into space on a rocket during its mid-autumn festival celebrations on 15 September.

It is part of the launch of the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, which was originally anticipated in 2015. Tiangong translates as ‘space palace’.

Chinese scientists hope that growing wine in space will trigger mutations in the vines that may make them more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

Image: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines from Ningxia nursery, credit Chenggong Group
Image: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines from Ningxia nursery, credit Chenggong Group

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Groupe since 2013.

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Chinese scientists are hoping that space radiation may trigger mutation on a genetic level in these vines.

These genetic changes may help the vines to evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses, said the nursery.

These qualities are deemed to be more suitable for China’s arid inland wine regions, including Ningxia and Xinjiang.

Producers in Ningxia must currently bury vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

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After the trip to space, these vines will be researched in the Ningxia nursery and compared against a control group, so as to find the most suitable mutation, said the Chenggong group.

In October, China will send a crew of two male astronauts via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to the Tiangong-2 and perform scientific researches for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

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