PNNL will study plants grown on the International Space Station



A handful of seeds will take off into outer space early Monday with a cargo of supplies for the International Space Station.

The seeds will be planted in the space station next month, and will tend to grow in a weed while the space station orbits the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour.

The harvest will be returned to Earth for study by scientists, including a team in Richland.

Researchers led by scientist Mary Lipton in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) on the campus of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will receive a fragment of each plant.

"The space environment is stressful for all living organisms," says a summary of the study conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "Understanding how plants respond will help crews in future missions to grow plants for the generation of food and oxygen."

The Washington State University in Pullman leads the $ 2.3 million study, called The Final Frontier Plant Habitat.

The seeds being sent to the space station are from the Arabidopsis plant, a working horse for the scientific community because much is known about them. They are related to cabbage and mustard.

Some of the seeds will be identical to those of wild plants and others have been modified by WSU Regents Professor Norman G. Lewis lacks normal amounts if lignin, the fibrous substance that allows plants to grow upright.


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Mary Lipton, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, poses at the Kennedy Space Center in front of a duplicate habitat that will grow the plants on the International Space Station.

Courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [19659012] Scientists are interested in how plants grow in the space station without the gravity of the Earth. For example, will plants still grow "up" in a microgravity environment?

When the plants measure less than one foot, they will be harvested and sent back to Earth.

They will arrive with a lot of data. More than 180 sensors will take detailed measurements as the plants grow in the space station.

A control group of identical plants will be grown at the same time at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to allow space comparisons. plants with those grown under the force of gravity.

Researchers will study whether the two groups of plants have the same nutritional values ​​and oxygen release rates.

The role of EMSL will be to observe the proteins in the plant samples that their scientists receive.

Proteins carry out the functions of cells, and researchers will look for differences in amounts or types of proteins in plants that grew well and those that did not.

The laboratory's mbad spectrometry equipment will be used for research, aided by the laboratory's computational ability to badyze large amounts of data.

EMSL researchers have the scientific expertise to evaluate the voluminous data expected from approximately 100 plant samples.

Researchers from other institutions will badyze the genetic and metabolic differences in plants. The University of New Mexico and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are also participating in the study.

"The overall importance is what it could mean for space exploration," Lewis said. "Whether it is about colonizing planets, establishing a station or making long-range space travel, it will be necessary to maintain air and food for artificially supported environments."

Some of the findings could also provide information on how plants could better adapt to stress on Earth.

To see the launch of the rocket at 1:39 a.m. Monday, go to nasa.gov/nasalive.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533; @HanfordNews

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