Dr. Mike Dixon is a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF), University of Guelph. He served as Chair of the Department of Environmental Biology from 2003-2008. Dr. Dixon joined the University as a NSERC University Research Fellow after earning his PhD from Edinburgh University in Scotland and holding a post-doctoral position at the University of Toronto. As project leader for the Canadian research team investigating the contributions of plants to life support in space, Dr. Dixon formed the Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program at the University of Guelph. This program currently represents Canada’s main contribution to the international space science objectives in biological life support and collaborates with NASA, Canadian Space Agency and European Space Agency. The CESRF is among the world’s leading research venues for technology developments and research dedicated to studying plant and microbial interactions in advanced life support systems. The technical “pull” of space exploration has aided the development of a wide range of technologies that have spun off into applications in terrestrial agri-food sectors and most notably the phyto-pharmaceutical (medicine from plants) sector in recent years.
Dr. Mike Dixon: What do I like…? Well, Cadillacs, ancient scotch, curious students, teaching, always asking what if, and challenging the limits of what’s possible with medicinal plant research. That’s a start.
Dr. Mike Dixon: It’s 1974 and I’m a plant biology undergrad at Mount Allison University, and I’m behind the president's residence doing what had to be one of the first legal projects on cannabis in Canada. The local RCMP’s crime lab even approved it. It just wasn’t being researched then, though Imagine the head start we could’ve had, though. Forty years later, I’m giving a conference paper on our space research and it catches the ear of former ABcann Medicinals ’ CEO Ken Clement. He asks questions and one thing leads to another…
Dr. Mike Dixon: Because it’s the wild west out there.
There’s no standard for production of medicinal plants, particularly cannabinoids. The phyto-pharmaceutical sector, of which cannabis is part, provides a significant opportunity for the application of our controlled environment technologies to produce medicines-like the production of cancer drugs from tobacco plants. This is important stuff that improves life.
Dr. Mike Dixon: Everything. Cannabis has been recreationally legal for not even a year and already there’s a vaping epidemic that's puzzling the Centers for Disease Control. We have no research on consumption, especially at that strength. So now we have a serious public health concern. We need the highest calibre cannabis research on everything from production to clinical trials. And we need it now. There is scant quality research on cannabis. Stigma can attach to research too, you know. You see the same in tobacco research, but even there we’re investigating its beneficial applications for cancer care. Now that medicinal plant research is fully legitimized, it needs a significant validating research home, a comprehensive hub for the highest quality international medical plant research.
Dr. Dixon: A centre like ours must be housed at a major research institution with all the pieces of the puzzle-and I mean all-so that we apply the finest research infrastructure to develop production strategies that yield standardized medicines. The OAC at the University of Guelph is just that place. We do everything-horticultural, food and animal science, pest management, grow food in space, even. We can be the world’s destination for medicinal research. We should be leading this-worldwide. We have the best knowledge, technology, and talent to take on this challenge. It’s ours to lose.
1. Advanced phyto-pharmaceutical research infrastructure
The CMPHR will harness the University of Guelph’s many assets across multiple disciplines and eight undergraduate and three graduate programs-especially in the established areas of advanced propagation tools, lighting impacts, optimized plant nutrition, and phytopharmaceutical standardization for the commercial production of
2. Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF)
Our Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility and its Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture (SALSA) program have made critical
contributions for sustainable horticulture in harsh environments like outer space. We have strong partnership endorsement from the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and NASA.
3. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) solutions
Our IPM program is among the foremost in the world and efficiently and sustainably eliminates pest populations for agricultural applications.
Our research on invasive pests has resulted in significantly reduced economic impact to the Canadian agriculture sector.
Plant-based medicines corporation invests $1 million for the PhytoGro Chair in Medicinal Phyto Substances to create plant-based medicines to treat conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD.
Established the Bayer CropScience Chair in Sustainable Pest Management for Innovative crop solutions in control existing and emergent crop threats.
University of Western Ontario
We are in preliminary discussions with Western to partner for cannabis research and clinical trials through their Faculty of Medicine.
VIVO Cannabis (nee ABcann Medicinals). Encompassing technologies for 4 various growing substrates.
Peer Reviewed Publications
Caplan, D., Dixon, M., Zheng, Y. (2019). Increasing inflorescence dry weight and cannabinoid content in medical cannabis using controlled drought stress. HortScience (Accepted)
Hawley, D., Graham, T., Stasiak, M., and Dixon, M. (2018). “Improving Cannabis Bud Quality and Yield with Sub canopy Lighting.” HortScience 53 (11):1593–99. https://doi.org/10.21273/hortsci13173-18
Caplan, D., Dixon, M., and Zheng, Y., (2017). Coir-based growing substrates for indoor medicinal cannabis production. Acta Horticulturae. (In Press)
Caplan, D., Stemeroff, J., Dixon, M., Zheng, Y. (2018). Vegetative propagation of cannabis by stem cuttings: effects of leaf number, cutting position, rooting hormone and removal of leaf tips. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 98: 1126-1132. https://doi.org/10.1139/cjps-2018-0038
Caplan, D., Dixon, M., Zheng, Y. (2017). Optimal rate of organic fertilizer during the flowering stage for cannabis grown in two coir-based subtrates. HortScience. 52(12): 1796-1803.
Caplan, D., Dixon, M., Zheng, Y. (2017). Optimal rate of organic fertilizer during the vegetative stage for cannabis grown in two coir-based substrates. HortScience. 52(9): 1307-1312.
- Irrigation Management Strategies for Medical Cannabis in Controlled Environments. 12/2017.
J. Stemeroff, MSc.
- Improving cannabis production using horticultural management techniques. 09/2018.
D. Caplan, PhD.
- Influence of light quality on plant secondary metabolism. 09/2018. D. Hawley, PhD.
The Deep Space Food Challenge Plant Research is a prize competition launched for controlled environment agriculture technologies for food production on Mars in parallel, in Canada by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and in the U.S. by the National Aeronautics and the Space Administration (NASA) Centennial Challenges Program.
A critical component of future, human exploration to worlds unknown, will be the supply of edible food for crewmembers. To develop innovations in cultivating food in controlled environment agriculture plant research technologies becomes integral to future missions.
Former Canadian astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, displaying 1.2 million tomato seeds aboard the International Space Station. The seeds were returned to Earth and distributed to nearly 20,000 classrooms as part of the on-going Tomatosphere™ plant research STEM education and outreach program.