Arabidopsis thaliana was grown from seed to seed wholly in microgravity on the International Space Station. Arabidopsis plants were germinated, grown, and maintained inside a growth chamber prior to returning to Earth. Some of these seeds were used in a subsequent experiment to successfully produce a second (back-to-back) generation of microgravity-grown Arabidopsis. In general, plant growth and development in microgravity proceeded similarly to those of the ground controls, which were grown in an identical chamber. Morphologically, the most striking feature of space-grown Arabidopsis was that the secondary inflorescence branches and siliques formed nearly perpendicular angles to the inflorescence stems. The branches grew out perpendicularly to the main inflorescence stem, indicating that gravity was the key determinant of branch and silique angle and that light had either no role or a secondary role in Arabidopsis branch and silique orientation. Seed protein bodies were 55% smaller in space seed than in controls, but protein assays showed only a 9% reduction in seed protein content. Germination rates for space-produced seed were 92%, indicating that the seeds developed in microgravity were healthy and viable. Gravity is not necessary for seed-to-seed growth of plants, though it plays a direct role in plant form and may influence seed reserves.
Research Containing: gravi-sensing
Auxin transport and ribosome biogenesis mutant/reporter lines to study plant cell growth and proliferation under altered gravity
We tested different Arabidopsis thaliana strains to check their availability for space use in the International Space Station (ISS). We used mutants and reporter gene strains affecting factors of cell proliferation and cell growth, to check variations induced by an altered gravity vector. Seedlings were grown either in a Random Positioning Machine (RPM), under simulated microgravity (µg), or in a Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC), under hypergravity (2g). A combination of the two devices (µg RPM+LDC) was also used. Under all gravity alterations, seedling roots were longer than in control 1g conditions, while the levels of the nucleolar protein nucleolin were depleted. Alterations in the pattern of expression of PIN2, an auxin transporter, and of cyclin B1, a cell cycle regulator, were shown. All these alterations are compatible with previous space data, so the use of these strains will be useful in the next experiments in ISS, under real microgravity.
Gravity resistance is one of two principal gravity responses in plants, comparable to gravitropism. In the final step of gravity resistance, plants increase the rigidity of their cell walls via modifications to the metabolism. Various constituents of the plasma membrane and the cytoskeleton play an important role in sustaining functions of the cell wall in gravity resistance. Mechanoreceptors located on the plasma membrane are involved in the perception of gravity signal. The perceived signal may be, at least partly, transformed and transduced via membrane sterol rafts, depending on its magnitude. Cellulose synthases and proton pumps are responsible for modifications to the cell wall metabolism and the apoplastic environment, respectively. On the other hand, the reorientation of cortical microtubules contributes to modification of growth anisotropy, which is related to gravity resistance. Also, microtubule-associated proteins are important in maintenance of the structure and induction of the reorientation of cortical microtubules. Gravity resistance in plants is thus mediated by the structural continuum or physiological continuity of cortical microtubules-plasma membrane-cell wall.
BACKGROUND: The mollusk statocyst is a mechanosensing organ detecting the animal's orientation with respect to gravity. This system has clear similarities to its vertebrate counterparts: a weight-lending mass, an epithelial layer containing small supporting cells and the large sensory hair cells, and an output eliciting compensatory body reflexes to perturbations. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In terrestrial gastropod snail we studied the impact of 16- (Foton M-2) and 12-day (Foton M-3) exposure to microgravity in unmanned orbital missions on: (i) the whole animal behavior (Helix lucorum L.), (ii) the statoreceptor responses to tilt in an isolated neural preparation (Helix lucorum L.), and (iii) the differential expression of the Helix pedal peptide (HPep) and the tetrapeptide FMRFamide genes in neural structures (Helix aspersa L.). Experiments were performed 13–42 hours after return to Earth. Latency of body re-orientation to sudden 90° head-down pitch was significantly reduced in postflight snails indicating an enhanced negative gravitaxis response. Statoreceptor responses to tilt in postflight snails were independent of motion direction, in contrast to a directional preference observed in control animals. Positive relation between tilt velocity and firing rate was observed in both control and postflight snails, but the response magnitude was significantly larger in postflight snails indicating an enhanced sensitivity to acceleration. A significant increase in mRNA expression of the gene encoding HPep, a peptide linked to ciliary beating, in statoreceptors was observed in postflight snails; no differential expression of the gene encoding FMRFamide, a possible neurotransmission modulator, was observed. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Upregulation of statocyst function in snails following microgravity exposure parallels that observed in vertebrates suggesting fundamental principles underlie gravi-sensing and the organism's ability to adapt to gravity changes. This simple animal model offers the possibility to describe general subcellular mechanisms of nervous system's response to conditions on Earth and in space.