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Fact sheet number: FS-2002-05-98-MSFC
Release date: 04/02

Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus/Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (PGBA/CGBA)

Payload Name: Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus/Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (PGBA/CGBA)

Mission: Expedition Five, ISS Flight 9A, STS-112 Space Shuttle Flight; returns to Earth on STS-113, ISS Flight 11A

Payload Location: U.S. Lab EXPRESS Rack No. 4

Principal Investigator: Dr. Gerard Heyenga, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Project Scientist: Dr. Louis Stodieck, BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo.

Project Manager: John West, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Payload Developer: Dr. Alex Hoehn, BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo.


On Earth plants have evolved to withstand the force of gravity through the development of a cell wall and production of associated structural compounds such as lignin. The cultivation of plants in a gravity free environment, as exists in Earth orbit and on the International Space Station may be used to decrease the plant’s production of lignin and increase its production of related compounds that have significant commercial and medicinal value. A further comparison between space and Earth grown plants would allow a greater understanding of how these changes are regulated at a genetic level. This knowledge could be used to maximize various beneficial genetic traits in commercial plant species on Earth. Benefits might include a reduction in the lignin content in trees used for pulping, greatly reducing the cost associated with paper production both economically and environmentally. This commercial application of this research represents a potential multi-billion dollar value. The initial flight experiment on Expedition Five will involve the use of the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. The species is particularly well suited for cultivation in the growth chamber referred to as the Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (PGBA) that will be situated in the Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station (EXPRESS) Rack 4. The PGBA flown on this mission to the International Space Station is an advanced version of a unit previously used on Space Shuttle missions STS-77, STS-83 and STS-94.

Experiment Operations

Subsystems in the Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus monitor and maintain light, temperature, humidity and oxygen levels. For this experiment, PGBA requires power during both ascent and descent on the space shuttle and while on orbit inside the International Space Station. Seeds will be germinated at various time intervals during the mission period in space. Mature plants will be harvested from the PGBA, processed and placed in the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) — another container in the same EXPRESS rack. The CGBA will act as a refrigerator to stabilize the plant material for postflight analyses. A second crop of plants cultivated in the PGBA will be returned to Earth to allow an even greater range of tests. Once back on Earth, the preserved samples will be analyzed using a variety of techniques. By comparing the results to equivalent data collected from a control group of plants cultivated on Earth, scientists can study the effect of microgravity on lignin biosynthesis and its effect on the production of secondary compounds within the plant.


BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has developed a consortium with the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory. Several biotechnology and forest product companies are being recruited to the consortium to help conduct this commercial experiment. Industry partners will potentially help to perform functional genomic analysis on the plants as well as provide commercial direction for this research. On later missions to the ISS, the PGBA will grow Loblolly Pine seedlings, the next step in this important commercial research program. The ability to use the unique gravity free environment of the International Space Station to help identify the genetic control mechanism involved in lignin metabolism has broad application in the pharmaceutical, timber, pulp and paper industries and represents a significant environmental and monetary value.

More Information

For more information on this experiment and other Space Station investigations, please visit:

Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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