Space explorers need to be space farmers: What we know and what we need to know about plant growth in space


Abstract


Space exploration will require life support systems, in which plants can provide nutrients, oxygen, moisture, and psychological well-being and eliminate wastes. In alien environments, plants must adapt to a different gravity force, even the zero gravity of spaceflight. Under these conditions, essential cellular and molecular features related to plant development are altered and changes in gene expression occur. In lunar gravity, the effects are comparable to microgravity, while the gravity of Mars produces milder alterations. Nevertheless, it has been possible to develop and reproduce plants in space. Current research seeks to identify signals replacing gravity for driving plant growth, such as light. Counteracting gravitational stress will help in enabling agriculture in extraterrestrial habitats.


Keywords


plant biology; International Space Station (ISS); microgravity; root meristem; gene expression

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  • Acknowledgements: I want to express my deep gratitude to the all members of my laboratory «Plant Cell Nucleolus, Proliferation and Microgravity» (CIB-CSIC) in Madrid, Spain (scientists and technicians, past and present), in particular to Dr. Raúl Herranz. I also gratefully acknowledge the participation in different collaborative projects of many foreign colleagues. I would like to mention especially Prof. John Z. Kiss (UNCG, USA) and Dr. Ing. Jack van Loon (VU Amsterdam and ESA-ESTEC, the Netherlands). The inestimable contribution of astronauts who have performed the experiments on board the International Space Station merits a particular gratitude. Work performed in the author’s laboratory was funded by the National Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation of the Spanish Government (Grants No. ESP2015-64323-R and AYA2012-33982, co-funded by EU-ERDF). Funding for experiments performed in spaceflights and ground based simulation facilities was provided by the European Space Agency.

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