Aquaponics: Utilizing Systems Biology to Model the Future of Environmentally Sustainable Food Production

A global crisis is emerging in the twenty-first century: accommodating for a rapidly growing population expected to reach close to, if not, over ten billion by the year 2050 (according to the United Nations projection in 2013). Already, we are seeing signs looming throughout the world. The water shortage in the Middle East, the one-child policy in China that has only been slightly eased, and climate change are only a few of the many warnings that the Earth’s carrying capacity is being exceeded. With natural resources being depleted at an exponential rate, a large question remains: “How are we going to feed this growing population; how do we formulate an agricultural system that provides security, is sustainable, and can utilize as little space as possible?” Aquaponics may very well be part of the solution.

Here at ISB we are creating a small-scale aquaponics system, a network that integrates systems biology concepts to model an alternative to traditional agricultural practices. We are currently only touching the surface of experimentation, which leaves us with a reality that our generation may not be the one to solve these problems. It reveals an urgency to educate the younger generation, the future scientists and engineers who will be entrusted with the task of tackling these issues on a large scale. That is why we are developing a system that can be easily implemented in the classroom and a curriculum that builds the higher level thinking skills required for addressing complex problems.

Systems biology approaches science in a very holistic way, bringing together minds from all different intellectual backgrounds and cultures, allowing them to contribute to one large product. We bring together a biologist, and a computer scientist, a mathematician and a chemist, even a medical researcher with a physicist, and see what all-encompassing solution they can find. This is how we believe science should be done, gathering the specialists from all different areas and making new discoveries that could never be found with a narrow and specific approach. This is exactly what we hope to achieve in classroom education, starting with aquaponics. We hope to not solely focus on food production, but to develop lesson plans that embed other concepts such as statistical analysis and basic programming so that teachers of subjects ranging from biology, chemistry, engineering, design, and even calculus, can integrate this model into their instruction.

By outlining the path into a more cross disciplinary style of education, we teach both students and teachers the importance of utilizing the systems approach in order to streamline the process of inventing new solutions to local and global problems. Aquaponics is only the beginning of our vision of accomplishment in the field of education and research. Our hope is to forge a whole new era of innovation; one that will completely transform the way the world views science and technology.



“World Population Projected to Reach 9.6 Billion by 2050 – UN Report.”United Nations News Centre. United Nations, 13 June 2013. Web. 18 July 2014.