LIGHT could be the untouchable tool used to shape plants and superfoods of the future.
Genetic modification and plant breeding are often cited as the major ways of getting plants to do what humans want but international research is showing light in protected cropping environments can manipulate plant traits for grower benefits.
Dutch plant physiologist, Katharina Adamitza, has specialised in LED light and photosynthesis in horticultural crops in Europe.
She now works for Finish commercial LED producer, Valoya.
Ms Adamitza was the first technical speaker at this year's Protected Cropping Australia Conference in Adelaide this week.
She said using light to manipulate plant growth was about quality and quantity.
Key to the practice is using the right sort of lights within the colour spectrum, or a blend of them, to prompt certain plant growth.
She said plants use light in two main ways: to absorb energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy; and to gather information about their situation such as location and season.
Knowing that, plants can be coerced into growing against seasonality or even increasing particular attributes.
Various lights will stimulate or alter certain plant traits.
"So as soon as I am growing in a vertical farm and I want to save space because I want to grow in multiple layers, I should think about having a compact plant and still keep the same yield," Ms Adamitza said.
She said a simple experiment where a blue light is placed to the right of plants in a controlled environment results in those plants growing towards that light and extending out to it.
"We know what we can do with our plants to manipulate them and this is one of the examples - growing towards the light," she said.
"We had a lot of smart scientists doing all this research for us but now it's time for us to understand, what can we use?"
"Can we use the fact a plant wants to grow in a certain direction or away from there?"
Light can also be used to increase the growth cycle by essentially "telling" the plant that it is still summer.
"If there is more photosynthesis we have a better yield at the end," Ms Adamitza said.
"As soon as it comes to ornamentals, it would be great to have all my ornamentals flowering on the same day so we can just put them on the market on day X and I can tell when is the day when I want my flowers to flower when they are on the shelves of the market."
There are considerations though with the possibility of light levels and duration causing stress within plants.
Ms Adamitza said it was about figuring out what are the maximum photons a plant can accept and what are the minimum.
"There are so many different influences," she said.
An example was given of Growing Underground, a business that produces leafy and micro greens under artificial light conditions in an unused underground train tunnel in London.
Ms Adamitza said another benefit of using LED lighting is that the plant doesn't suffer heat influence.
She said when it comes to light manipulation, it was about considering the plant species and the growth aims such as bigger leaves, shorter stems, synchronised ripening or other possibilities.