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Aquacombine Project: High Potential of Salt-tolerant Plants such as Marsh Samphire as Crops

Aquacombine Project: High Potential of Salt-tolerant Plants such as Marsh Samphire as Crops

Salicornia plants cultivated in hydroponic cultures at different salinities [photo: Jutta Papenbrock]

Bio-economic strategies: Cultivation of stress and salt-tolerant plants in a circular economy - concrete and sustainable

The EU research project AQUACOMBINE focused on halophytes - salt-tolerant plants: It investigated different types of halophyte cultivation in combined aquaculture, for example by combining irrigation with fish culture and filtering and reusing the process water.
Against the background of increasing demand for freshwater in agriculture and increasing loss of arable land due to salinisation, the project addressed the question of whether and to what extent the properties of the plant can be used to counteract the consequences of climate change and whether it is possible to establish a chain of use with high added value.
Funded over four years by the EU's Horizon 2020 funding programme, the project started in 2019 and the results have now been published.

The 17 project groups, led by Aalborg University in Denmark, studied plants such as European marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea), beach aster (Tripolium pannonicum) and sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum).
Prof Dr Jutta Papenbrock, project partner at the Institute of Botany, has been working with halophytes for 20 years and explains the characteristics and differences between the promising salt-tolerant species in the project results: "
Halophytes are, by definition, plants that can complete their life cycle under a salt concentrations of at least 200 mM (11.68 g/L NaCl). The plants can also extract salts from the growing medium and thus desalinate soils. Species of the genus Salicornia are obligate halophytes: they need salt for their growth. These species have, e.g., root and stem anatomical features resulting from adaptation to salinity stress."
Halophyte biomass is of interest for the production of food and animal feed, but also as botanical extracts, as it can also provide new products for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.


At the Institute of Botany in Hanover, the project group led by Prof. Dr. Jutta Papenbrock has been investigating for more than four years whether sea samphire - also known as sea asparagus - can be used as a foodstuff with its valuable polyphenols, and whether its roots can also make an important contribution to coastal protection.
Although the fresh tips of Salicornia europaea and related species are valued as a very tasty vegetable, they have only been grown commercially on a small scale. They have a number of advantages: they take up little space and their high salt tolerance means they are not dependent on fresh water.

The team used a pilot plant to test how they could be grown in a greenhouse with artificial light. Under favourable conditions, such as an optimal salt concentration in the nutrient solution, the yield can be significantly increased, which is important for the long-term production of Queller on a large scale.
Andre Fussy, a doctoral student in Professor Papenbrock's team, is also using molecular biology techniques to investigate the reasons for the exceptional salt tolerance, with the aim of establishing Queller as a crop more quickly and exploiting this important property for the cultivation of other crops on saline soils.