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Controlled Environment Laboratory for Life Sciences (CELLS)

Dr. Siobhán Moane, Dr. Peter Downey (Limerick IT); Michelle McKeon-Bennett (Athlone IT)


The Controlled Environment Laboratory for Life Sciences (CELLS) Research Group was established in 2010 as a dedicated research group within the Department of Applied Sciences at LIT with the aim to become a Centre of Excellence for the enhancement of bioactive compound production in plants. CELLS utilises four custom-built environmental growth chambers that allow for tightly controlled environmental growth conditions for plant-based studies, with funding for these chambers being provided by Enterprise Ireland. The CELLS Research Group has received funding from the Marie Curie FP7 fund, Horizon 2020, Enterprise Ireland, and the Irish Research Council.

CELLS builds upon a previously established link with the Space Life Science Laboratory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida and focuses its research efforts on technology-enhanced plant growth and development with bespoke applications and solutions for sustainable agriculture. Research activity within the group leverages expertise in controlled environment agriculture (employing hydroculture and soil-based cultivation techniques) for investigation into areas such as crop sustainability and food security, biofortification, impact of naturally-derived biostimulants for food production, and enhancement of nutritional capacity and health-promoting bioactive profiles.

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) aims to create and enhance optimum growing conditions for full year-round cropping of a wide range of high value, fresh produce closer to the point of consumption and utilisation. Enhancements investigated in controlled environment growth chambers are extensible and transferable to traditional greenhouse production facilities as well as to field production. Growing within a controlled hygienic environment offers many other benefits for enhanced production:

  • increases in quality due to fewer residues resulting from lack of plant protection chemicals;
  • tighter forecasting for production that is closer to market need thereby reducing waste;
  • improvements in nutrition and taste as high-value compounds, e.g. anthocyanins, can be targeted for yield enhancement;
  • overcoming seasonality allowing for year round production with extended scope for local production of exotics – including ornamentals;
  • improved productivity allowing vertical farming and retail units in industry to increase output yields, and
  • allowing for production on non-agricultural land thereby enabling growth for ingredients for pharmaceutical, cosmetics and industrial applications.

CELLS partners with LIT’s Technology Gateway, Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, on the extraction and characterisation of high-end bioactive molecules produced by plants through adaptation under controlled environmental conditions. Such bioactive compounds have applications in nutraceutical and cosmeceutical industries. CELLS also partners with LIT’s Food@LIT group for the incorporation of health-promoting compounds and nutritionally enhanced plant-based ingredients in food products for functional food industries.

CELLS research offerings:

Growth Trials:

Use of dedicated controlled environment grow rooms, as well as support with design and implementation of bespoke growth trials for the assessment of:

  • optimal production conditions including supplemental spectral assessment;
  • hydroculture (hydroponic/aeroponic) production;
  • abiotic stress resistance;
  • microbial mediated biofortification;
  • disease resistance;
  • phytoxicity evaluation of pesticides, environmental waste, and other chemicals.

Biochemical Assessment:

Biochemical analysis and assessment of plant tissues, soils, and nutrient mediais carried out, in partnership with Shannon ABC and includes:

  • high-value bioactive, health-promoting, and health-protective compounds
  • primary and secondary metabolites including:
    • proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids;
    • ​​Flavonoids, essential oils, pigments, and alkaloids.

The range of analytical capabilities present at Shannon ABC can be found at

Selected Projects

IP20200954 – Enrichment of quarried topsoil using novel soil improvers and fertilisers for horticultural applications

IV20200285 – Investigation of the impact of a seaweed-derived biostimulant on plant growth and development, and phytotoxicity

H2020-COMPET-2014 Grant Agreement number: 636501 — Ground Demonstration of Plant Cultivation Technologies and Operation in Space for Safe Food Production on-board ISS and Future Human Space Exploration Vehicles and Planetary Outposts (EDEN ISS)

Project website: