multi pipette research of cancer stem cells
Title: The optimisation of the production of clean pharmaceutical plant species with a stable, consistent concentration of important secondary metabolic products through a Plant Factory system
Funding: Seale-Hayne Educational Trust
Duration: 2018–2020
University of Plymouth staff: Dr Hail Rihan (PI)
Pharmaceutical plants have become the subject of increasing interest in academia, industry and health sciences. However, natural products are not necessarily always safe to use or consistent in their yields of medicinal products.
The systematic collection of research data on pharmaceutical plant responses to specific wavelengths of light, and the publication of these findings, could have a significant impact on public health. The pharmaceutical properties of the proposed plants will be determined, and this will contribute to developing novel treatments for a range of medical conditions.
Using our existing Plant Factory facility, we will design a controllable LED lighting system to carry out light treatment experiments to optimise plant growth. Microbial study and chemical analysis will ensure the safety and quality of our two target plants –  basil (Ocimum basilicum) and black cumin (Nigella sativa L.).
Plant in Plant Factory

Objectives of the project

  • Optimise a plant factory agricultural system, including a hydroponic culture system and LED lighting conditions (intensity and spectrum, etc.), for two species of important industrial medicinal plants.
  • Determine the optimal spectrum conditions for maximising the secondary metabolite products of these two plant species.
  • Investigate the effect of the extract of these pharmaceutical plants on human cell immunological and inflammatory responses. 
  • Conduct a microbial scan of the bacterial diversity on the leaves of the crops produced through the plant factory system, and compare them with those produced under greenhouse conditions. 

Employing novel technology

The originality of this project is through the use of a new generation of LED lighting, in which the spectrum can be adjusted to match the plant’s requirements. The environmental conditions in which pharmaceutical plants are grown directly impacts the quality and concentration of their bioactive material. The use of light stress at an advanced growing stage, to accelerate accumulation of bioactive chemicals, was an important characteristic of this project and the effect produced by this lighting on the growth, yield and secondary metabolites informed our dataset.
Data resulting from the investigation of the effects of different 'light recipes' will inform comprehensive instructions for farmers and commercial producers in the production of the proposed plant species.

Impacts of our research

*Updated following project completion
By optimising controlled environment units we were able to design an agricultural system for the production of safe, high-yield pharmaceutical product with known bioactive chemical compositions. This has resulted in significant applications for use in commercial production and the field of public health.

Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Group

Our Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) team includes researchers and technical staff from both the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Health, working together on transdisciplinary projects advancing the use of dynamic lighting technology to grow food and medical crops.
Much of our research is carried out on-site in our bespoke Plant Factory unit. Projects focus on the development of sensors, LED lighting, control systems and precision horticulture techniques to optimise the energy efficiency of indoor growing and improve the yield and quality of target pharmaceutical compounds.
Wide shot of Plant Factory with LED lights on