Plant Research Aboard the International Space Station

Plant research aboard the ISS. Photo credit to NASA.

Panagiotis Lymperopoulos, a New Mexico Consortium Research Scientist, working in collaboration with Professor David Hansen at the University of New Mexico and Professor Norman Lewis at Washington State University, have plants flying high above Earth on the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of a NASA project to answer questions that hold the key to our future in space as well as on the Earth. Because the space environment is stressful for all living organisms, we need to understand how plants respond while growing in space. This research will help crews on future missions successfully grow plants for food and oxygen generation.

This project compares differences between plants grown in space and on Earth. Like people, plants experience a wide range of physical and physiological changes in microgravity, the very weak gravity experienced while orbiting the Earth in the spacecraft. Researchers will look at differences in genetics, metabolism, photosynthesis, and gravity sensing. The goal of this research is to gain key insights on major changes occurring in plants exposed to microgravity while growing in space.

This investigation studies the plant Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family, to determine how microgravity affects photosynthesis, formation of the plant’s cell walls, growth/development, and gene function. The ISS provides a laboratory for the comprehensive study of plant metabolism, transcription, protein production and more. Understanding these changes greatly benefits efforts to grow plants on future missions, whether for further exploiting the space environment, for fundamental research, long duration missions, or possible human colonization on other planets such as Mars.

There are many different science projects going on aboard the ISS at this time. Watch this NASA video to get a closer look at various research projects which are working towards improving life on Earth, as well as enabling humanity to explore the universe.

To read more about this research on the genetic differences in space-grown and Earth-grown plants by going to: Plant Habitat-1

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