Nav: Home

How does your garden grow in space?

December 19, 2018

Astronauts in low-earth orbit could use a fresh salad to brighten up all those freeze-dried meals. But the microgravity space environment can affect plant growth in ways we're only beginning to understand. In research presented in a recent issue of Applications in Plant Sciences, Drs. Anna-Lisa Paul and Robert Ferl, and colleagues at the University of Florida Space Plants Lab, showed that two different transcriptomic approaches could feasibly be used to understand how subcomponents of plant organs respond to the space environment.

RNA-Seq and microarray chips are two methods of analyzing which genes are expressed (the "transcriptome") in a given tissue. Both techniques quantify mRNA transcripts, the intermediary molecule between genes and the proteins those genes encode, which provides a wealth of information about how an organism is responding to environmental cues. "When we look at tissue preserved from plants that have grown their entire lives on the space station, we can see into the underlying mechanisms they are using to physiologically adapt to that novel environment," said Dr. Paul, the corresponding author on the study. "In other words, what metabolic 'tools' they are engaging to adjust."

Both RNA-Seq and microarray chips can be adapted to use very small tissue samples, which is important considering the extreme expense of conducting spaceflight experiments. However, the two techniques differ in important ways. Microarray requires the design of a chip to probe expression of known genes, while RNA-Seq involves sequencing total RNA without regard for particular candidate RNA transcripts. In line with previous studies, the authors found that the two methods each had relative advantages. RNA-Seq picked up on expression of many more genes, including poorly known genes, while microarray detected some potentially important candidate genes relevant to spaceflight that were expressed at low levels, which RNA-Seq did not detect.

Transcriptomics can also be used to show how different tissues in the same organism respond to the same stimulus. The authors compared gene expression in two root zones, based on work by the first author, Dr. Aparna Krishnamurthy. "One of Dr. Krishnamurthy's post-doctoral projects was to optimize an approach that would allow us to look into the transcriptome of two of the most interesting regions of the root tip - the very tip, which houses the root cap and meristematic zone, and then slightly behind the tip, where elongation occurs," said Dr. Paul. "The root tip is the 'brain' of the plant root. The cells within the first half of a millimeter are responsible for sensing and processing most of the information that the plant root gathers from its environment - detecting the pull of gravity (or its lack), the direction of light, the path to water and minerals, and so on."

Understanding how plants respond to the space environment is critical to successfully providing fresh food to astronauts. "The information gained by the spaceflight and exploration research community today will guide the plant biology and habitat engineering required for the successful utilization of plants in future exploration initiatives," said Dr. Paul. In the near future, the need for a little greenery will be more pressing: plants grown in space can provide fresh, healthy food, oxygen, and a little slice of home to increasing numbers of people cooped up in space stations, on long voyages, or someday, on other planets.
-end-
Aparna Krishnamurthy, Robert J. Ferl, and Anna-Lisa Paul. 2018. Comparing RNA-Seq and microarray gene expression data in two zones of the Arabidopsis root apex relevant to spaceflight. Applications in Plant Sciences 6(11): e1197. https://doi.org/10.1002/aps3.1197

Applications in Plant Sciences (APPS) is a monthly, peer-reviewed, open access journal focusing on new tools, technologies, and protocols in all areas of the plant sciences. It is published by the Botanical Society of America, a nonprofit membership society with a mission to promote botany, the field of basic science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function, development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. APPS is available as part of the Wiley Online Library.

For further information, please contact the APPS staff at apps@botany.org.

Botanical Society of America

Related Genes Articles:

How status sticks to genes
Life at the bottom of the social ladder may have long-term health effects that even upward mobility can't undo, according to new research in monkeys.
Symphony of genes
One of the most exciting discoveries in genome research was that the last common ancestor of all multicellular animals already possessed an extremely complex genome.
New genes out of nothing
One key question in evolutionary biology is how novel genes arise and develop.
Good genes
A team of scientists from NAU, Arizona State University, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts and nine other institutions worldwide to study potential cancer suppression mechanisms in cetaceans, the mammalian group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.
How lifestyle affects our genes
In the past decade, knowledge of how lifestyle affects our genes, a research field called epigenetics, has grown exponentially.
Genes that regulate how much we dream
Sleep is known to allow animals to re-energize themselves and consolidate memories.
The genes are not to blame
Individualized dietary recommendations based on genetic information are currently a popular trend.
Timing is everything, to our genes
Salk scientists discover critical gene activity follows a biological clock, affecting diseases of the brain and body.
New genes on 'deteriorating' Y chromosome
Decoding Y chromosomes is difficult even with latest sequencing technologies.
Newly revealed autism-related genes include genes involved in cancer
Researchers in Italy have applied a computational technique that accounts for how genes interact, to find new networks of related genes that may be involved in autism spectrum disorder.
More Genes News and Genes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.