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.
Research Containing: Gravity Sensing/physiology
Altered gravity affects ventral root activity during fictive swimming and the static vestibuloocular reflex in young tadpoles (Xenopus laevis)
During early periods of life, modifications of the gravitational environment affect the development of sensory, neuronal and motor systems. The vestibular system exerts significant effects on motor networks that control eye and body posture as well as swimming. The objective of the present study was to study whether altered gravity (AG) affects vestibuloocular and spinal motor systems in a correlated manner. During the French Soyuz taxi flight Andromede to the International Space Station ISS (launch: October 21, 2001; landing: October 31, 2001) Xenopus laevis embryos were exposed for 10 days to microgravity (microg). In addition, a similar experiment with 3g-hypergravity (3g) was performed in the laboratory. At onset of AG, embryos had reached developmental stages 24 to 27. After exposure to AG, each tadpole was tested for its roll-induced vestibuloocular reflex (rVOR) and 3 hours later it was tested for the neuronal activity recorded from the ventral roots (VR) during fictive swimming. During the post-AG recording periods tadpoles had reached developmental stages 45 to 47. It was observed that microgravity affected VR activity during fictive swimming and rVOR. In particular, VR activity changes included a significant decrease of the rostrocaudal delay and a significant increase of episode duration. The rVOR-amplitude was transiently depressed. Hypergravity was less effective on the locomotor pattern; occurring effects on fictive swimming were the opposite of microg effects. As after microgravity, the rVOR was depressed after 3g-exposure. All modifications of the rVOR and VR-activity recovered to normal levels within 4 to 7 days after termination of AG. Significant correlations between the rVOR amplitude and VR activity of respective tadpoles during the recording period have been observed in both tadpoles with or without AG experience. The data are consistent with the assumptions that during this period of life which is characterized by a progressive development of vestibuloocular and vestibulospinal projections (i) microgravity retards the development of VR activity while hypergravity weakly accelerates it; (ii) that microgravity retards the rVOR development while hypergravity caused a sensitization, and that (iii) AG-induced changes of VR activity during fictive swimming have a vestibular origin.