Original Article


, Volume 224, Issue 5, pp 1038-1049

First online:

Microgravity effects on leaf morphology, cell structure, carbon metabolism and mRNA expression of dwarf wheat

  • G. W. StutteAffiliated withSpace Life Sciences Laboratory, Dynamac Corporation, Mail Code Dyn-3, Kennedy Space Center Email author 
  • , O. MonjeAffiliated withSpace Life Sciences Laboratory, Dynamac Corporation, Mail Code Dyn-3, Kennedy Space Center
  • , R. D. HatfieldAffiliated withUS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-Agricultural Research Service
  • , A. -L. PaulAffiliated withDepartment of Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida
  • , R. J. FerlAffiliated withDepartment of Horticultural Sciences, University of Florida
  • , C. G. SimoneAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of South Florida

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The use of higher plants as the basis for a biological life support system that regenerates the atmosphere, purifies water, and produces food has been proposed for long duration space missions. The objective of these experiments was to determine what effects microgravity (μg) had on chloroplast development, carbohydrate metabolism and gene expression in developing leaves of Triticum aestivum L. cv. USU Apogee. Gravity naive wheat plants were sampled from a series of seven 21-day experiments conducted during Increment IV of the International Space Station. These samples were fixed in either 3% glutaraldehyde or RNAlater or frozen at −25°C for subsequent analysis. In addition, leaf samples were collected from 24- and 14-day-old plants during the mission that were returned to Earth for analysis. Plants grown under identical light, temperature, relative humidity, photoperiod, CO2, and planting density were used as ground controls. At the morphological level, there was little difference in the development of cells of wheat under μg conditions. Leaves developed in μg have thinner cross-sectional area than the 1 g grown plants. Ultrastructurally, the chloroplasts of μg grown plants were more ovoid than those developed at 1 g, and the thylakoid membranes had a trend to greater packing density. No differences were observed in the starch, soluble sugar, or lignin content of the leaves grown in μg or 1 g conditions. Furthermore, no differences in gene expression were detected leaf samples collected at μg from 24-day-old leaves, suggesting that the spaceflight environment had minimal impact on wheat metabolism.


Bioregeneration Bioregenerative life support Lignin Carbohydrate metabolism Microarray Triticum aestivum L.