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article imageSpace plants return to Earth

By Tim Sandle     Nov 10, 2014 in Science
A cargo holder holding more than 1,000 frozen plants that germinated and grew aboard the International Space Station have been returned to Earth for further study by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists.
Scientists have received back hundreds of Petri dishes holding seedlings that sprouted and grew in weightlessness on board the space station. These have come from special containers called “Biological Research in Canister.” Most of these seedlings have been placed into a freezer for later study. The plants will be individually studied at the genetic level to see if any changes to the genes of the plants have taken place due to zero gravity conditions. This is a complex process given that the typical plant has 30,000 genes.
The study has a serious point to it: if humans are to go on long space flights, such as to Mars, they will need to grow food. In addition, plants can also be used to generate oxygen. The unknown question is how well do plants fare in zero gravity conditions? One report from the recent study suggests that plants grow long and thin, and are relatively weak. This is akin to the risk of zero gravity on people, where bones can become brittle. Another concern is that plants that grow up without mechanical stresses (from wind or rain) are more susceptible to disease.
What will be of interest is those genes that alter and those genes that remain robust. This will help scientists to select the most hardy plants for breeding or for carrying out genetic modifications to improve certain types of plants.
Once the review is completed, a set of digital data on plant genetic activity in microgravity will be published. This will be held in NASA’s geneLAB.
Through the process called transcription, genes produce RNA that becomes the template for proteins, and in both sets of experiments, the RNA data will show which genes become more or less active in microgravity, when compared to an identical set of plants grown on Earth.
More about Plants, Space, seedlings, petri dish
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