Engineer lettuce growers highlight production science - The Packer

Engineer lettuce growers highlight production science

06/27/2014 09:56:00 AM
Chuck Robinson

Chuck Robinson, assistant copy chiefChuck Robinson, assistant copy chiefJapanese electronics maker Fujitsu Ltd. is growing high-tech lettuce in a semiconductor manufacturing plant.

That should be enough to send anti-GMO activists into a tizzy, but there is no genetic modification going on at all.

Instead, a group of engineers are producing low-potassium lettuce that can be eaten by patients suffering from kidney disease or those undergoing dialysis, who must restrict potassium intake.

Thanks to news aggregator Flipboard, I saw a Wall Street Journal blog story about the project in May, another online story from Popular Science and another article on the Japan Times about it.

According to the Japan Times article, this lettuce has about 100 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams, while normal lettuce has about 490 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams. It also has fewer nitrates than normal lettuce and so tastes less bitter.

Fujitsu isn’t giving up on making and selling computer chips, but the company expects to make money with its low-potassium lettuce, which sells for a good premium over normal lettuce, according to news reports. The low-potassium lettuce is the first product of its Kirei Yasai (Clean Vegetable) line.

The lettuce was developed with a patent held by Akita Prefectural University, but it is the engineers who are making it a marketable product. They renovated part of a room at the plant that was virtually dust-free, germ-free and hidden from sunlight. There are no pests in the sealed-off room, so no pesticides are needed.

It seems like quite a set up. The pictures I have seen show two researchers wrapped in disposable clothing, with their feet in disposable booties, heads covered, and masks over their faces. The lights and plants and everything look meticulous, which I would expect from a bunch of engineers trying their hand at lettuce production.

“Our engineers gave the same attention to the vegetable that they give to a semiconductor,” a spokeswoman at Fujitsu was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal blog.

We have a romanticized vision of hybridizers who create the varieties of produce items brought to market.

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Arizona  |  June, 27, 2014 at 01:11 PM

Nice piece. Perhaps a few industry readers may be distracted because of the semi-conductor imagery as it may seem to sci-fi. However, imho the key aspect of the piece is that it touches on the deployment of financial and intellectual muscle in controlled horticulture to explore potential new markets. Why? to capture the much vaunted and elusive value-added. Which begs the question: Other than growing, what else as group are you doing for your industry right now? Because "others" certainly are and will.

UK  |  June, 30, 2014 at 03:20 AM

The really interesting thing here is that bigger yields and better produce ARE possible WITHOUT any GMO. This is achieved simply by creating 'perfect' growing conditions with computer controlled monitoring to ensure it stays that way. Clearly we cannot build these types of facilities worldwide but surely it certainly shows that GMO is not the only answer.

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