Richard Stoner, President of the Berthoud, CO 
 biotechnology company Aeroponics International, ,
 holds the experiment in seed germination (left),
 similar to the ones Stoner has aboard the Russian
 space station Mir.  The seeds are treated with the 
 natural disease control formula (right) developed 
 by Stoner and his senior scientists.

 (Photo: John Epperson, Denver Post) 

Berthoud firm's test flies on Mir

                    By Coleman Cornelius
                     Special to The Denver Post

                   Oct. 11, 1997 - BERTHOUD -

It's fair to say that Richard Stoner's business  ideas are far out. Experiments Stoner has developed through his Berthoud biotechnology company, Aeroponics International'S orbiting Earth aboard Russia's space station Mir. The Aeroponics International experiments join those from BioServe, a NASA-sponsored commercial space center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As Stoner recently showed off prototypes in a humble laboratory connected to his garage, he laughed about the improbability of his experiments being run aboard the space station. "I'm living the science fiction of my youth,'' he said. "How many companies can say they developed this technology and have an experiment on the Mir space station?''

With the Aeroponics International experiments on Mir, scientists seek to discover more about a plant's genetic ability to fight disease. Stoner and his business collaborators are developing methods to trigger a plant's natural immunities. They hope to ultimately provide organic disease-control technologies for agriculture. "The goal is to have products for the agricultural industry and home gardening,'' Stoner said. "The
focus of the technology is to reduce pesticides and petrochemical-based fertilizers.''

The experiments in space involve seedlings sprouted from small, red adzuki beans. The beans were treated with a shellfish-derived solution meant to switch on the seedlings' disease defenses.

While aboard Mir, the plants will be observed for telling reactions in the low-gravity environment.  Living organisms behave differently in the low gravity of space, said Mike Sportiello, a senior research assistant with BioServe. So the Aeroponics International experiments should provide insights useful for creating new methods of organicfarming on Earth - and, eventually, for growing food for long-term space missions to the moon or Mars, Sportiello said.  "One thing I like about Aeroponics International is their dedication to doing plant growth in an environmentallybenign manner,'' Sportiello said. "If we can do that on Earth and in space, it's a big step forward.'' Sportiello noted that space exploration is booming, and scientists must find ways to grow food for humans in outer space.

 Said Stoner: "People need to eat, and once you establish a moonbased or Mars-based colony, you have to grow something. Freezedried food isn't going to do it.''
BioServe included Aeroponics International in the Mir project because the small Berthoud company has potentially revolutionary ideas, Sportiello said.

Its efforts to develop organic disease-control methods are just one part of Aeroponics International's focus. The company also is researching and developing ways to grow plants in air, without soil and with very little water - a system called Aeroponics.

Using fewer natural resources to grow crops is important as demands for land and water increase, Stoner said. He said NASA, the timber industry and the agriculture departments in the United States and Canada are among the groups interested in Aeroponics International technologies. About 50 individuals have invested in the
company's research and development, Stoner said.

Stoner, who is Aeroponics International's president and CEO, founded the company in 1992. He has since attracted scientists from Colorado State University in Fort Collins as co-inventors and advisers. Ken Knutson is a plant pathologist who worked in CSU's horticulture department for about 29 years before retiring and becoming involved with Aeroponics International. Knutson said the company's work with organic disease-control technologies provides exciting possibilities for agriculture. He said the widespread use of pesticides - which raises costs and poses health problems - is one of the most pressing problems in agriculture worldwide. The scientist foresees improved food safety and ground-water quality, as well as reduced farming costs with Aeroponics International products. "The most exciting thing to me is that this is a new technology that permits the user to be totally free of pesticides,'' Knutson said.

Related Information

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