Transcriptional and Post Transcriptional Regulation of Seedling Development in Microgravity (Plant RNA Regulation) - 11.22.16

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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Compared to plants grown on the ground, plants grown in space experience broad changes in gene expression, which affects how they grow and develop. Transcriptional and Post Transcriptional Regulation of Seedling Development in Microgravity (Plant RNA Regulation) studies the first steps of gene expression involved in development of roots and shoots. Scientists expect to find new molecules that play a role in how plants adapt and respond to the microgravity environment of space, which provides new insight into growing plants for food and oxygen supplies on long-duration missions.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Imara Y. Perera, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Plant RNA Regulation

Principal Investigator(s)
Imara Y. Perera, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States

Information Pending

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Space Exploration, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - February 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Plant Signaling STS-135 (2011)

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Plants represent a vital part of human life support systems for future long-duration spaceflight and habitation.
  • Plants grown in space are subject to many unfamiliar stresses.
  • There are global changes in gene expression between space and ground controls.
  • Post transcriptional regulation of RNA is emerging as an important mechanism of modulating gene expression under different environmental conditions.
  • There have been no studies to examine the role of small regulatory RNAs in plant responses to the space environment.
  • The aim of this experiment is to examine the transcriptional, and post transcriptional mechanisms that regulate early seedling development in space and microgravity.
  • The hypothesis for this experiment is that plant adaptation and response to the space environment involves novel regulatory small RNAs.
  • The long term goals of this experiment are to better understand the molecular mechanisms by which plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment, and to characterize the regulatory networks that mediate these responses.
  • This knowledge could be valuable for designing plants which are better able to withstand spaceflight, microgravity, and adverse environmental conditions.
  • This project is in alignment with one of the highest priority recommendations of the Space Biology Research focus on Plant and Microbial Biology as outlined in the Decadal Survey Report, “to analyze plant growth and physiological responses to the multiple stimuli encountered in spaceflight environments”.


The hypothesis put forth by this research group is that plant adaptation and response to the space environment involves novel, regulatory small RNAs. The International Space Station (ISS) is the only laboratory facility capable of demonstrating and verifying this hypothesis.
This project has two major experimental goals:
1. To profile the transcriptional and post transcriptional changes associated with early shoot and root development at μ g and 1 g.
2. To monitor and characterize protein profiles of developing shoots and roots.
These tests build on the PI’s previous spaceflight experimental results on the ISS utilizing the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) (Plant Signaling Payload, PI: Dr. Imara Perera, launched on STS-135, 2011).
The experiment is conducted in the EMCS, utilizing the on-orbit centrifuges and experiment unique containers. One rotor spins at 1g while the second rotor remains stationary (micro-g). Seedlings are grown for 6 days under a dark light cycle. Each rotor holds 4 experimental containers (EC)s, and each EC holds 5 separate seed cassettes with 27 seeds each. Two consecutive experiments are run back to back.

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Space Applications
Plants are a crucial source of food, oxygen and drugs for people and animals, and are vital for human life support on long-duration missions to the moon, Mars or asteroids. But space is not an ideal environment to grow plants, which are affected by microgravity and radiation. Results from this investigation can help to improve strategies for helping plants adapt to space, including designing plant strains that are better able to withstand microgravity and other adverse environmental conditions.

Earth Applications
Gene expression is the process of converting a gene’s information into a useful product, such as a protein or an RNA molecule. Changes in gene expression can dramatically affect how an organism grows and develops. Results from this investigation describe gene expression changes in plants grown in the harsh environment of space, which provides new information about the molecular mechanisms plants use to detect and cope with changes in their environments. This information benefits plant research on Earth, including growing plants in drought and high temperature conditions that will result from climate change.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

During the 6 day growth period, images are captured and downlinked in real time. Images consist of EC overviews, as well as close up images of each seed cassette. At the end of 6 day period, the seed cassettes are removed from the EC and stored in the Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) at -80°C, until return to the PI for further analysis. Since the major focus of the experiment is molecular analysis, sample return is essential and requires intact tissue.

The EMCS is programmed and monitored remotely by the N-USOC. Flight crew is responsible for loading the ECs into the EMCS, sample retrieval at the end of the experiment, and storage in MELFI.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Plant and Microbial Biology P2

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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