Microgravity: Microgravity is the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless. The effects of microgravity can be seen when astronauts and objects float in space.
In a unique research, ‘growing plants aboard the ISS revealed how plants adapt to microgravity in recently published results in "PLOS One" concerning plant adaptations at the genetic level.
Optimizing plant growth, both on Earth and in space is critical because plants may serve as a food source for long term missions, or even be used to supplement life support missions. "There are many environments on Earth that are becoming marginal through pollution, rising temperatures, encroaching drought, etc. and learning how plants respond to novel environments - any novel environment - can help us prepare for breeding crops to thrive in places they never had to before," said Primary Investigator Anna-Lisa Paul.
The Characterizing Arabidopsis Root Attractions (CARA) investigation sought to get to the root of this issue by examining the genetic basis of plant responses and dug up intriguing possibilities for further studies.
"We did expect that genetics would play a role in adaptation to spaceflight," CARA Co-Investigator Robert Ferl said. "What we did not expect was that certain genes might play dramatic roles. We found that changes in a single gene can enable a plant to be much better adapted to spaceflight - at least as measured by the amount of gene expression work that the plant has to use to adapt to spaceflight."
This is not for the 1st time that plants are been grown in space…
In 2014, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson grew Arabidopsis thaliana, or thale cress, seeds aboard the station, as did investigators on the ground. Half the seeds were grown in ambient light conditions, while the other half were grown in darkness. Researchers later extracted RNA from the root tips of these plants in order to quantify changes in gene expression due to spaceflight.
This research if proves out to be true, it could be possible to develop plant strains with minimally-altered gene expression during spaceflight. It's possible that a more efficient response to spaceflight would optimize plant health and use. If so, investigating alternate genotype reactions to spaceflight could facilitate future attempts to grow plants in microgravity environments.