The Chinese tech behind the first-ever cotton seed germination on the moon
People's Daily Overseas

(Photo: CCTV)

The world will never forget the moment in January 2019 when the first-ever cotton seed germinated on the moon aboard China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe. In fact, the tiny seed that amazed the world was the result of a decade-long effort to develop Chinese cotton farming technology, which has risen to become the best in the world.

The selection of what organism to send to the moon was a difficult process, as it had to be able to survive a harsh environment that features low gravity, strong radiation, and high temperature differences on the lunar surface. Cotton was chosen for its strong vitality against various extreme conditions.

The seed on the moon, ICR-41, came from the Institute of Cotton Research (ICR) of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS) after nearly a decade of development. Its development represented a new stage of Chinese cotton breeding technology and marked a breakthrough in modern genetic technology in the nation.

It was awarded the Second Prize of National Science and Technology Progress in 2009, and it now takes up 95% of the market share.

However, back in 1999, some 95% of the cotton market in China was taken up by foreign seeds and companies, as cotton farming in China in the 1990s suffered from a long-term and serious bollworm disaster.

At that time, cotton, a strategic material, made up a quarter of China’s foreign exchanges earnings by means of cotton-based textiles and related industries. Nearly 300 million farmers in China treated cotton as an elementary source of income.

The birth of ICR-41, against this historic background, saved the nation’s cotton farming industry. It also made China the second country in the world to possess the technology needed to synthesize the Bt insecticidal protein gene with independent intellectual property rights, following the United States.

ICR-41 has greatly enhanced the growth of insect-resistant cotton varieties selected by China’s independent genetic technology and it dominates the domestic market for insect-resistant cotton.

“Gene breeding technology is a new technology developed with the advancement of modern science and technology, enabling humans to breed excellent traits at the molecular level for the benefit of all mankind,” Li Fuguang, director of ICR, concluded.