SHANGHAI/GUIYANG, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- In a room resembling a space capsule filled with blue light, tens of thousands of Petri dishes, nurturing clusters of white enoki mushrooms, were placed on shelves.
This was not a scene from a sci-fi movie but an edible fungus breeding room in Weining Xuerong Biotechnology Co., Ltd, one of the largest targeted poverty alleviation projects in China's southwestern mountainous province of Guizhou.
The factory has 320 such breeding rooms, with about 56,000 bottles of edible fungi growing in each room. These edible fungi are produced in a controlled environment where factors such as light, humidity, and temperature levels are automatically adjusted.
Growing edible fungi not only increases income for local farmers but also offers another possible food choice for human beings to survive in space.
Xuerong and the China Space Foundation established an edible fungus research institute in 2013 in Changchun, Jilin Province, and Xuerong has become a strategic cooperative partner of China Space in 2016, the company's chairman Yang Yongping said at Xuerong's headquarters in Shanghai.
"The space authorities are interested in whether it is possible to grow fungi in space crafts to solve space food problems. We are considering researching the food astronauts eat in space through further cooperation," Yang said.
China has seen rapid progress in its pursuit of space exploration over the years. Advancements in space science such as manned spaceships, space stations, and the moon and Mars explorations have aroused fascination with space among Chinese people.
The sci-fi movie "The Martian" proposes a bold food supply solution for human beings after "migrating" to other planets -- planting potatoes on Mars.
For Chen Xin, business partner and marketing center operation director of Xuerong, growing fungi in space could also be an option as edible fungi feature high protein and low fat and do not need soil, chemical fertilizers, or pesticides to grow.
The poverty reduction campaign that Xuerong has participated in may integrate with China's space efforts in the future, said Yang Aimin, head of the business development department of the China Space Foundation. "For instance, edible fungi could be space food someday, and a small-sized fungus production base could be established in future space stations."
Producing one-fourth of the country's total fresh enoki mushrooms, Xuerong served as one of the key companies supporting China's epidemic prevention efforts. It came to Weining to help reduce poverty in 2015 and has set up several poverty reduction projects nationwide.
"It is encouraging that impoverished Chinese farmers, who starved in the past and never left the mountains, can now produce high-quality agricultural products. They can learn new knowledge and broaden their horizons in the process," said Yang.
Science can change the destiny of ordinary people. The novel "Sun of China," written by China's sci-fi mogul Liu Cixin, tells the story of a Chinese migrant worker who is responsible for cleaning curtain walls of skyscrapers after coming to the city. He later cleans sunlight reflectors in space and eventually gains the chance to become a space explorer.
Visitors entering Xuerong's factory in Weining will be impressed by the sign of "a strategic cooperative partner of China Space." The factory provides jobs for more than 3,000 workers, many of whom live in poverty.
Li Zaoli and her husband have worked in Xuerong's factory for a year and a half. The couple's monthly salaries now total about 7,000 yuan (about 1,027 U.S. dollars), and their family has been lifted out of poverty.
Li said she used to do farm work and took care of children in the village, and sometimes watched TV news about space launches and moon exploration. "I am so proud that our edible fungi are likely to be part of the astronauts' menu. It is so incredible that many of my family members and friends can hardly believe it!"
She imagined that one day astronauts could eat edible fungi in space. "Can these foods be sent to Mars?"
In recent years, Xuerong has held space-related activities regularly, including inviting customers to watch space launches and introducing space knowledge in supermarkets. The company is planning to strengthen space education among impoverished workers and encourage them to take part in space-related activities. Enditem