How do space plants grow? This experiment on the International Space Station hopes to find out. Space-grown plants look mostly normal, but have some distinct features compared to plants grown on Earth – most notably in the way their roots grow.
Roots evolved to grow “down” to search out nutrients and water, and on Earth, that response is predominantly governed by the force of gravity. But how does a plant know which way is down when there is no “down”? What determines the direction in which the plant’s roots should grow in space?
We are studying the molecular genetic signals that help guide plant growth in the novel environment of spaceflight, including how plants use new molecular “tools” to sense and respond to their environment when familiar signals are absent. What we learn could improve the way we grow plants in microgravity on future space missions, enabling crews to use plants for food and oxygen. This is just one of many petri plates filled with tiny plants from the Characterizing Arabidopsis Root Attractions-2 (CARA-2) that was recently harvest aboard the space station.
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