Solving global food shortages

1 in 9 people or 821.6 million of the world’s population in 2018 were defined as hungry by the World Health Organisation. Population increases are driving a predicted increase in food requirement of 60% by 2050. Labs around the world are tackling this problem by developing new strains of crops to withstand more hostile conditions with a view to solving the forecasted global food shortages in the next 20 – 30 years.

Researchers, both academic and commercial, are investing in high throughput systems that allow them to grow large numbers of crops (3,000+) in a single controlled experiment. In each experiment, various strains of a crop (for example wheat, barley or rice) are subjected to harsh conditions (salinity, heat) in order to see how well they survive. To rule out bad seeds many of the same variety are grown at once so that an overall average of survivability can be recorded.

I am very proud that the APPF are directly contributing to optimising plant growth for a changing climate. The looming global food shortages are truly an important and rewarding challenge for us to solve.

George Sainsbury, Data Architect & Software Engineer at the APPF

The data/imaging opportunity

At such a large scale, automation of growing and assessing the results is essential to conduct the experiments efficiently. A key component of these results is a daily set of images of each individual plant from a variety of angles. These images must then be assessed by experts to determine which strains show the most promise. Furthermore, an experiment with so many moving parts has considerable scope for things to go wrong. Regular monitoring of the system is therefore essential to keep each experiment on track.