• A new challenge sponsored by Target Corp has sought potential solutions to benefit cotton production by improving water sustainability.
  • It provided researchers a novel way to leverage microgravity to evaluate avenues for more sustainable cotton production.
  • Three projects have been selected by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) US National Laboratory for testing. 
The Cotton Sustainability Challenge is sponsored by US department store retailer Target Corporation

The Cotton Sustainability Challenge is sponsored by US department store retailer Target Corporation

A project sponsored by US department store retailer Target Corp will see three concepts designed to benefit cotton production by improving water sustainability sent to the International Space Station (ISS) US National Laboratory for testing.

The Cotton Sustainability Challenge, organised by the The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), sought potential solutions to improve crop production on Earth by leveraging the ISS National Lab to innovate and generate ideas that will improve the utilisation of natural resources for sustainable cotton production.

Through the collaboration, CASIS and NASA will facilitate hardware implementation and in-orbit access to the ISS National Lab, while Target will provide grant funding for selected proposals. CASIS is the organisation tasked by NASA with managing the ISS National Lab.

Cotton is a natural plant fibre produced in many countries and one of the most important raw materials required for the production of textiles and clothing. Cotton cultivation requires sustainable access to natural resources like water that are increasingly threatened.

"Bringing awareness to cotton sustainability is a powerful opportunity to showcase the unique research facets of the International Space Station," says CASIS director of commercial innovation and strategic partnerships Cynthia Bouthot. "We look forward to working alongside Target and our selected researchers as they prepare to send innovative research to our orbiting laboratory."

Among the selected projects is a customisable and scalable machine learning platform from public benefit corporation Upstream. Its 'Best Management Practice Assessment and Real-time Monitoring' platform utilises data from Earth-observation satellites to inform and empower public, corporate, and non-profit sectors to make evidence-based decisions related to water use, management, and conservation. It aims to leverage ISS remote sensing imagery to enable automated monitoring and analysis of cotton agriculture and inform Target's production-related water use goals for sustainable cotton production.

Meanwhile, a project from Clemson University, South Carolina, proposes to use the tools of genetic sequencing to examine gene expression, DNA methylation patterns, and genome sequences of three different cotton cultivars using embryogenic callus material. Each of the cotton cultivars responds and regenerates differently when grown in tissue culture on Earth. In the absence of gravity, the differences between cotton cultivars during the process of regeneration—and their ability to grow from embryogenic callus material—may be affected and could reveal new insights into the genetics of plant growth and regeneration. A better understanding of these processes (and differences between cultivars) will advance fundamental biological knowledge and could improve our ability to grow cotton plants that more efficiently use water and adapt to changing environments.

Finally, the ISS National Lab provides a unique opportunity to investigate which environmental factors and genes control cotton root-system development and function in the absence of gravity-related patterning. A project from the University of Wisconsin, hopes to assess the degree to which root system architecture influences stress resilience, water-use efficiency, and carbon sequestration during the critical phase of seedling establishment.

All grants and subsequent flight opportunities are contingent on final contract agreements between the award recipients, CASIS, and Target.