Does Disney's Living with the Land produce actual research?
February 10, 2010 4:13 PM   Subscribe

What research has "Living with the Land" at Disney's EPCOT actually produced?

While visiting Disney's EPCOT a couple of years ago, I took a backstage tour of Living with the Land. This is the large greenhouse and ride where Disney grows hydroponic vegetables and produces aquaculture fish. Much was made at the time about the "valuable research" Disney has produced, and various sites online mention this research as well. However, I have no idea what that research actually is.

So what research has Disney produced from Living with the Land? Has it been published? Peer reviewed? Are actual farmers using this information? How?

Or is this all fabricated by Disney as part of the show?
posted by fremen to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The wiki article has one citation:

Fan, Y. Q.; Bell, E., Etzel, R., Hammer, B., Frey, L., Harmon, T., Blank, T., Meeusen, C., Burn, B., Schon, M., Huang, Y., Petitt, F. (2004). "Food crop culture in The Land greenhouses at Epcot" (abstract). Acta Horticulturae 659 (1): 161–169. Retrieved 2007-02-21.

I couldn't pull this through my library, so I don't know how reliable or well-cited this is.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:21 PM on February 10, 2010

When we went on the 'Behind the Seeds Tour' they mentioned work on dwarf species. For example, dwarf pear trees that are safer to harvest because they don't grow so tall.

Another example was dwarf wheat that grows only a few inches. Apparently this research was in conjunction with NASA. The idea behind the dwarf wheat was that it was very space efficient and could theoretically be grown very densely in racks. This would be useful for a self-sufficient space station or long term mission.

More concretely, here's a paper on agricultural pests: An automated system for collection and counting of parasitized leafminer larvae

Here's a citation and abstract for research at The Seas: Monitoring feed amounts in goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) using behavioral conditioning in a large mixed species exhibit.

And some work with dolphins: Bottlenose dolphins perceive object features through echolocation

So it sounds like Epcot really does produce some real research that is published in real, peer-reviewed journals like Nature.
posted by jedicus at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2010

Here are some more results that might help with further searching, although a cursory glance suggests only tangential mentions of the EPCOT Center and its Land exhibit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:34 PM on February 10, 2010

Fan YQ, et al. (2008) Growing cucurbits at the land pavilion in Epcot. Hortscience 43(4):1242. [Web of Sceince link]

Huang Y, et al. (2007) Disease management in The Land greenhouse. Phytopathology 97(7):S49. [Web of Science link]

Here are two more that are conference abstracts, meaning the work was presented at a conference and so not actually peer reviewed.
posted by Durin's Bane at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2010

Spectral quality affects disease development of three pathogens on hydroponically grown plants [pdf]

Direct somatic embryogenesis from axes of mature peanut embryos

And I should add that the paper on goliath groupers has been cited three times, the leafminer paper three times, the dolphin paper 28 times, the spectral quality paper 16 times, and the peanut embryos paper 36 times (all citation counts from Google Scholar). So it looks like some of their work gets traction in the broader research community.
posted by jedicus at 4:43 PM on February 10, 2010

Choosing some key phrases from the title of that paper and putting them into google scholar brings up more, often with a contributing author that has Epcot as their address. I grabbed one author name and threw him in along with epcot and got a handful more. You can probably keep doing that with other authors and keywords to expand it some more. It all looks like valid horticultural reseach to me although I'm not a plant biologist.
posted by shelleycat at 4:49 PM on February 10, 2010

Damn, I just realised I posted scholar links with my webproxy still in them. The first link was supposed to be this and the second this.
posted by shelleycat at 4:55 PM on February 10, 2010

Andrew Schuerger's CV, who worked there for 15 years from 1982-1997.
Research programs were developed for the control of bacterial, fungal, viral, and nematode pathogens in hydroponic systems. Research included projects on the following pathosystems: tomato mosaic virus in peppers, Erwinia carotovora on cucurbits, Fusarium solani on beans, Pythium spp. on peppers, biological control of root-knot nematodes, use of filtration and ozonation to control root pathogens in recirculating hydroponic systems, and the effects of silicon on the suppression of powdery mildew on cucurbits. In addition, space biology research was conducted in cooperation with NASA scientists in areas of plant allelopathy, effects of spectral quality on plant growth and plant disease development, microbial survival in space, and ALS related systems design and operation
(And then he got hired by NASA! How cool is that career?)
posted by smackfu at 4:58 PM on February 10, 2010

A search of the Biosis Previews database (for-pay, so you probably won't be able to search yourself unless you have access through your school or workplace) found 65 journal articles listing EPCOT as the institutional affiliation of one or more authors, though some seem to be associated with "The Land" and others with "The Seas" or "The Living Seas" within EPCOT (although perhaps the latter are related to the aquaculture fish you saw?)

I was going to link a few examples but the ones I found online are already linked in the prior comments.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:58 PM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: All excellent answers. Thanks!
posted by fremen at 6:19 PM on February 10, 2010

Also, Mickey Mouse-shaped cucumbers, watermelons and pumpkins
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 6:28 PM on February 10, 2010

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