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How do plants grow in space?

Microgravity, different kinds of light, extreme conditions… Growing while in orbit or on Mars are two experiences that earthbound organisms have never needed to adapt to in our evolutionary history. How do our bodies react to long-term weightlessness and radiation, and can we grow food in these conditions? How do plants behave when they’re in space?

Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul and Dr. Robert Ferl are studying just that in Florida at the Space Plants Lab, as well as on parabolic flights, and with experiments that have traveled to the International Space Station and back. From The Conversation: Taking plants off planet:

Plants make especially great research subjects if you’re interested in environmental stress. Because they’re stuck in one spot – what we biologists call sessile organisms – plants must cleverly deal in place with whatever their environment throws at them. Moving to a more favorable spot isn’t an option, and they can do little to alter the environment around them.

But what they can do is alter their internal “environment” – and plants are masters of manipulating their metabolism to cope with perturbations of their surroundings. This characteristic is one of the reasons we use plants in our research; we can count on them to be sensitive reporters of environmental change, even in novel environments like spaceflight.

In this episode of The Macroscope, Science Friday reports on the Lab’s findings as we try to better understand Plants in Space… and on Earth.

sprouts growing in space
Watch this SciFri next: Unwinding the Cucumber Tendril Mystery.

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