Gene expression analysis using microarrays has proved to be an important method in life science. The opportunity to grow higher plants on the International Space Station (ISS) opens up the possibility for gene expression profiling of plants grown in microgravity. The work presented focuses on how to meet the scientific requirements of plant growth and the sample preservation, given the technical and operational constraints associated with space research. The growth chamber (Multigen-2 Science Testing Unit) and a protocol suggested to be used in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) Multigen-2 experiment on the ISS to grow and later preserve Arabidopsis seedlings, were tested on ground. The results showed that most of the plants developed normally. In order to avoid high population stress the number of seedlings per growth area should be reduced. The RNAlater preservation method to be used in the space experiment was compared with a quick freeze in Liquid Nitrogen (LN2). The RNA from samples preserved in RNAlater at room temperature for 24 h was slightly more degraded than the RNA from the LN2 preserved samples (RNA integrity number, RIN: 7.7 and 8.6, respectively). However, the RNA quality and quantity was satisfactory for microarray analysis. Of the genes analysed, 74 genes (0.28%) were significantly differentially expressed, most of them showing moderate to low regulation. Among the genes induced in the RNAlater preserved samples, three salt inducible transcription factors (ZAT10, SZF1 and SZF2) were identified, suggesting that the high salt concentration in RNAlater causes salt stress before the transcription stopped. In conclusion, the Multigen-2 preservation protocol tested here will allow for the genes regulated by microgravity in the space experiment to be revealed. The results do indicate that not all the biological processes are stopped instantly by the RNAlater. The limited diffusion indirectly caused by the microgravity may potentially result in a different degree of salt stress in the test compared to the 1 × g control during the space experiment. This has to be accounted for during the evaluation of the results. Since slightly degraded RNA was observed, further optimalisation of the preservation protocol will be performed.
Research Containing: Gene Expression
Changes in operational procedures to improve spaceflight experiments in plant biology in the European Modular Cultivation System
The microgravity environment aboard orbiting spacecraft has provided a unique laboratory to explore topics in basic plant biology as well as applied research on the use of plants in bioregenerative life support systems. Our group has utilized the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to study plant growth, development, tropisms, and gene expression in a series of spaceflight experiments. The most current project performed on the ISS was termed Seedling Growth-1 (SG-1) which builds on the previous TROPI (for tropisms) experiments performed in 2006 and 2010. Major technical and operational changes in SG-1 (launched in March 2013) compared to the TROPI experiments include: (1) improvements in lighting conditions within the EMCS to optimize the environment for phototropism studies, (2) the use of infrared illumination to provide high-quality images of the seedlings, (3) modifications in procedures used in flight to improve the focus and overall quality of the images, and (4) changes in the atmospheric conditions in the EMCS incubator. In SG-1, a novel red-light-based phototropism in roots and hypocotyls of seedlings that was noted in TROPI was confirmed and now can be more precisely characterized based on the improvements in procedures. The lessons learned from sequential experiments in the TROPI hardware provide insights to other researchers developing space experiments in plant biology.
Plants will be an important component in bioregenerative systems for long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. Since gravity is reduced both on the Moon and Mars, studies that identify the basic mechanisms of plant growth and development in altered gravity are required to ensure successful plant production on these space colonization missions. To address these issues, we have developed a project on the International Space Station (ISS) to study the interaction between gravitropism and phototropism in Arabidopsis thaliana. These experiments were termed TROPI (for tropisms) and were performed on the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) in 2006. In this paper, we provide an operational summary of TROPI and preliminary results on studies of tropistic curvature of seedlings grown in space. Seed germination in TROPI was lower compared to previous space experiments, and this was likely due to extended storage in hardware for up to 8 months. Video downlinks provided an important quality check on the automated experimental time line that also was monitored with telemetry. Good quality images of seedlings were obtained, but the use of analog video tapes resulted in delays in image processing and analysis procedures. Seedlings that germinated exhibited robust phototropic curvature. Frozen plant samples were returned on three space shuttle missions, and improvements in cold stowage and handing procedures in the second and third missions resulted in quality RNA extracted from the seedlings that was used in subsequent microarray analyses. While the TROPI experiment had technical and logistical difficulties, most of the procedures worked well due to refinement during the project.
In order to effectively study phototropism, the directed growth in response to light, we performed a series of experiments in microgravity to better understand light response without the “complications” of a 1-g stimulus. These experiments were named TROPI (for tropisms) and were performed on the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), a laboratory facility on the International Space Station (ISS). TROPI-1 was performed in 2006, and while it was a successful experiment, there were a number of technical difficulties. We had the opportunity to perform TROPI-2 in 2010 and were able to optimize experimental conditions as well as to extend the studies of phototropism to fractional gravity created by the EMCS centrifuge. This paper focuses on how the technical improvements in TROPI-2 allowed for a better experiment with increased scientific return. Major modifications in TROPI-2 compared to TROPI-1 included the use of spaceflight hardware that was off-gassed for a longer period and reduced seed storage (less than 2 months) in hardware. These changes resulted in increased seed germination and more vigorous growth of seedlings. While phototropism in response to red illumination was observed in hypocotyls of seedlings grown in microgravity during TROPI-1, there was a greater magnitude of red-light-based phototropic curvature in TROPI-2. Direct downlinking of digital images from the ISS in TROPI-2, rather than the use of analog tapes in TROPI-1, resulted in better quality images and simplified data analyses. In TROPI-2, improved cryo-procedures and the use of the GLACIER freezer during transport of samples back to Earth maintained the low temperature necessary to obtain good-quality RNA required for use in gene profiling studies.
This study identifies genes that determine survival during a space flight, using the model eukaryotic organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Select strains of a haploid yeast deletion series grew during storage in distilled water in space, but not in ground based static or clinorotation controls. The survival advantages in space in distilled water include a 133-fold advantage for the deletion of PEX19, a chaperone and import receptor for newly- synthesized class I peroxisomal membrane proteins, to 77–40 fold for deletion strains lacking elements of aerobic respiration, isocitrate metabolism, and mitochondrial electron transport. Following automated addition of rich growth media, the space flight was associated with a marked survival advantage of strains with deletions in catalytically active genes including hydrolases, oxidoreductases and transferases. When compared to static controls, space flight was associated with a marked survival disadvantage of deletion strains lacking transporter, antioxidant and catalytic activity. This study identifies yeast deletion strains with a survival advantage during storage in distilled water and space flight, and amplifies our understanding of the genes critical for survival in space.
The European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) installed within the US laboratory module, Destiny, and/or the European experiment module, Columbus, onboard the International Space Station (ISS), is an ESA facility available for plant research and biological experiments. The EMCS facility uses standard experiment containers (ECs) mounted on centrifuges and provides life support such as water and gas supply systems as well as observation systems. The experiment-specific hardware such as the plant cultivation chamber, root phototropism observation chamber, and plant root gravitropism observation chamber is integrated into the EC. JAXA has five themes concerning space plant research, of which two-Cell Wall and Resist Wall-will include conducting space experiments using the EMCS facility; according to the present shuttle flight schedule, they are due to be launched in mid February 2007. The objectives of the Cell Wall / Resist Wall experiment include in-orbit growth of 10-cm-long inflorescence stems of Arabidopsis and subsequent, post-flight morphology, biological, gene expression, and cell-wall properties analyses on the ground. In this article, we describe the EMCS facility, the plant cultivation and onboard chemical fixation system. Furthermore, we also discuss the verification experiments conducted by JAXA.
Expression of stress-related genes in zebrawood (Astronium fraxinifolium, Anacardiaceae) seedlings following germination in microgravity
Seeds of a tropical tree species from Brazil, Astronium fraxinifolium, or zebrawood, were germinated, for the first time in microgravity, aboard the International Space Station for nine days. Following three days of subsequent growth under normal terrestrial gravitational conditions, greater root length and numbers of secondary roots was observed in the microgravity-treated seedlings compared to terrestrially germinated controls. Suppression subtractive hybridization of cDNA and EST analysis were used to detect differential gene expression in the microgravity-treated seedlings in comparison to those initially grown in normal gravity (forward subtraction). Despite their return to, and growth in normal gravity, the subtracted library derived from microgravity-treated seedlings was enriched in known microgravity stress-related ESTs, corresponding to large and small heat shock proteins, 14-3-3-like protein, polyubiquitin, and proteins involved in glutathione metabolism. In contrast, the reverse-subtracted library contained a comparatively greater variety of general metabolism-related ESTs, but was also enriched for peroxidase, possibly indicating the suppression of this protein in the microgravity-treated seedlings. Following continued growth for 30 days, higher concentrations of total chlorophyll were detected in the microgravity-exposed seedlings.
Characterization of the Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium ydcI gene, which encodes a conserved DNA binding protein required for full acid stress resistance
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium possesses a stimulon of genes that are differentially regulated in response to conditions of low fluid shear force that increase bacterial virulence and alter other phenotypes. In this study, we show that a previously uncharacterized member of this stimulon, ydcI or STM1625, encodes a highly conserved DNA binding protein with related homologs present in a range of gram-negative bacterial genera. Gene expression analysis shows that ydcI is expressed in different bacterial genera and is involved in its autoregulation in S. Typhimurium. We demonstrate that purified YdcI protein specifically binds a DNA probe consisting of its own promoter sequence. We constructed an S. Typhimurium DeltaydcI mutant strain and show that this strain is more sensitive to both organic and inorganic acid stress than is an isogenic WT strain, and this defect is complemented in trans. Moreover, our data indicate that ydcI is part of the rpoS regulon related to stress resistance. The S. Typhimurium DeltaydcI mutant was able to invade cultured cells to the same degree as the WT strain, but a strain in which ydcI expression is induced invaded cells at a level 2.8 times higher than that of the WT. In addition, induction of ydcI expression in S. Typhimurium resulted in the formation of a biofilm in stationary-phase cultures. These data indicate the ydcI gene encodes a conserved DNA binding protein involved with aspects of prokaryotic biology related to stress resistance and possibly virulence.
Post-Spaceflight (STS-135) Mouse Splenocytes Demonstrate Altered Activation Properties and Surface Molecule Expression
Alterations in immune function have been documented during or post-spaceflight and in ground based models of microgravity. Identification of immune parameters that are dysregulated during spaceflight is an important step in mitigating crew health risks during deep space missions. The in vitro analysis of leukocyte activity post-spaceflight in both human and animal species is primarily focused on lymphocytic function. This report completes a broader spectrum analysis of mouse lymphocyte and monocyte changes post 13 days orbital flight (mission STS-135). Analysis includes an examination in surface markers for cell activation, and antigen presentation and co-stimulatory molecules. Cytokine production was measured after stimulation with T-cell mitogen or TLR-2, TLR-4, or TLR-5 agonists. Splenocyte surface marker analysis immediate post-spaceflight and after in vitro culture demonstrated unique changes in phenotypic populations between the flight mice and matched treatment ground controls. Post-spaceflight splenocytes (flight splenocytes) had lower expression intensity of CD4+CD25+ and CD8+CD25+ cells, lower percentage of CD11c+MHC II+ cells, and higher percentage of CD11c+MHC I+ populations compared to ground controls. The flight splenocytes demonstrated an increase in phagocytic activity. Stimulation with ConA led to decrease in CD4+ population but increased CD4+CD25+ cells compared to ground controls. Culturing with TLR agonists led to a decrease in CD11c+ population in splenocytes isolated from flight mice compared to ground controls. Consequently, flight splenocytes with or without TLR-agonist stimulation showed a decrease in CD11c+MHC I+, CD11c+MHC II+, and CD11c+CD86+ cells compared to ground controls. Production of IFN-gamma was decreased and IL-2 was increased from ConA stimulated flight splenocytes. This study demonstrated that expression of surface molecules can be affected by conditions of spaceflight and impaired responsiveness persists under culture conditions in vitro.