Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility
The Centre for Medicinal Plant Health Research will advance our leading horticultural research program to guide Canada and the world into the next century of medicinal plant research. This is impact research that improves life.
March 11, 2020 Indorgro™ Founder, Brad Rubin(left) with Dr. Mike Dixon agree on the next mission
Dr. Dixon formed the Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program at the University of Guelph. This program currently represents Canada’s main contribution to the international space science objectives in biological life support and collaborates with NASA, Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency. The technical “pull” of space exploration has aided the development of a wide range of technologies that have spun off into applications in terrestrial agri-food sectors and most notably the phyto-pharmaceutical (medicine from plants) sector in recent years.
Dr. Mike Dixon, Retired Professor / Director, Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility served as Chair of the Department of Environmental Biology from 2003-2008. Dr. Dixon joined the University as a NSERC University Research Fellow after earning his PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland and holding a post-doctoral position at the University of Toronto. As project leader for the Canadian research team investigating the contributions of plants to life support in space, Dr. Dixon formed the Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program at the University of Guelph. This program currently represents Canada’s main contribution to the international space science objectives in biological life support and collaborates with NASA, Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency. The CESRF is among the world’s leading research venues for technology developments and research dedicated to studying plant and microbial interactions in advanced life support systems. The technical “pull” of space exploration has aided the development of a wide range of technologies that have spun off into applications in terrestrial agri-food sectors and most notably the phyto-pharmaceutical (medicine from plants) sector in recent years.
Published October 6, 2019
Q 1: What does Mike like?
Dr. Mike Dixon: What do I like…? Well, Cadillacs, ancient scotch, curious students, teaching, always asking what if, and challenging the limits of what’s possible with medicinal plant research. That’s a start.
Q 2: Tell us about your first research experience with medicinal plants.
Dr. Mike Dixon: It’s 1974 and I’m a plant biology undergrad at Mount Allison University, and I’m behind the president's residence doing what had to be one of the first legal projects on cannabis in Canada. The local RCMP’s crime lab even approved it. It just wasn’t being researched then, though Imagine the head start we could’ve had, though. Forty years later, I’m giving a conference paper on our space research and it catches the ear of former ABcann Medicinals ’ CEO Ken Clement. He asks questions and one thing leads to another…
Q 3: Why is the Centre For Medicinal Plant Health so important?
Dr. Mike Dixon: Because it’s the wild west out there. There’s no standard for production of medicinal plants, particularly cannabinoids. The phyto-pharmaceutical sector, of which cannabis is part, provides a significant opportunity for the application of our controlled environment technologies to produce medicines-like the production of cancer drugs from tobacco plants. This is important stuff that improves life.
Q 4: What will the Centre for Medicinal Plant Health Research mean to the future of medicinal plant research?
Dr. Mike Dixon: Everything. Cannabis has been recreationally legal for not even a year and already there’s a vaping epidemic that's puzzling the Centers for Disease Control. We have no research on consumption, especially at that strength. So now we have a serious public health concern. We need the highest caliber cannabis research on everything from production to clinical trials. And we need it now. There is scant quality research on cannabis. Stigma can attach to research too, you know. You see the same in tobacco research, but even there we’re investigating its beneficial applications for cancer care. Now that medicinal plant research is fully legitimized, it needs a significant validating research home, a comprehensive hub for the highest quality international medical plant research.
Q 5: Why is the Ontario Agricultural College and University in the right place for an International Centre for Medicinal Plant Research?
Dr. Dixon: A centre like ours must be housed at a major research institution with all the pieces of the puzzle-and I mean all-so that we apply the finest research infrastructure to develop production strategies that yield standardized medicines.
The OAC at the University of Guelph is just that place. We do everything-horticultural, food and animal science, pest management, grow food in space, even. We can be the world’s destination for medicinal research. We should be leading this-worldwide. We have the best knowledge, technology, and talent to take on this challenge. It’s ours to lose.
• Build a dedicated closed-environment research space designed for the multi-disciplinary research and production of medicinal plants
• Expand our critical mass of researchers, engineers, scientists
• Acquire advanced research technologies in support of the highest quality plant research
• Create dedicated cannabis research capacity to support the new and growing cannabis and cannabinoid research industry
• Develop a body of research that focuses on genetics and breeding, propagation, production, harvesting, compositional analysis, postharvest storage, processing and using cannabis for human and animal health
• Assist the cannabis industry with developing quality control standards for large-scale indoor/controlled environment production of recreational and medicinal cannabis
• Provide industry training, technical support and technology transfer
• Support governments with evidence-based scientific, peer reviewed research to assist with the development and evaluation of regulations and policy
• Train the next generation of medicinal plant research and policy leaders through advanced experiential learning that shapes the future of medicinal plant research and its broad applications
• Collaboratively support the growth of agri-food industry, medicinal plant production, and controlled environment food sustainability
• Lead and influence social, economic, and health policies surrounding the vast medicinal plant industry through knowledge translation, vital partnerships, and quality production
A University of Guelph entry in the Deep Space Food Challenge has advanced to Phase 2 of the international contest, which aims to find new ways to grow food in space.
The University of Guelph entry, called Canada GOOSE, or Growth Options for Outer Space Environments, is a controlled environment plant growth chamber designed to push the boundaries of high-density crop production yielding a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms complete with power and water supply. Exploiting uniquely Canadian controlled environment technology and expertise, this design innovates ways to achieve homogeneous conditions within a high-density production system. While meant to address the supply of fresh nutritious food for astronauts, the chamber could be installed in remote areas or harsh environments to improve food security around the world.
Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) at the University of Guelph, began as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Collaborative Research and Development funded project (NSERC-CRD) in collaboration with the aerospace and greenhouse sectors. It has since evolved into a research program that has state-of-the-art capacity in controlled environment studies and those related to biological life support for space exploration. The CESRF was responsible for the integration of the nutrient delivery system of the EDEN ISS greenhouse facility, and contributed to the power control, command, and data handling subsystems.
Success germination echoes the success of Tomatosphere™, an ongoing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) project founded by Dr. Mike Dixon and retired Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk and other partners that has sent tomato seeds to space for two decades Space agencies around the world are working to send humans to Mars. Since bringing enough food for a mission lasting two to three years would be too expensive and impractical, astronauts will have to grow their own healthy food while in space. In the closed environment of a spacecraft, plants grown on board can make a huge contribution to life-support systems. Plants can provide food, produce oxygen, and recycle carbon dioxide and some organic waste.
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