, Volume 21, Issue 1-2, pp 3-10
Date: 15 Jul 2008

From ROOTS to GRAVI-1: Twenty Five Years for Understanding How Plants Sense Gravity

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In the 1970s, when I started to work on gravitropism at the University Pierre and Marie Curie, Paris), it was well known that statocytes contain voluminous amyloplasts (statoliths) that sediment under the influence of gravity. The role of these organelles in gravisensing was strongly disputed. In 1974, I attended a session of a meeting on gravitropism in Würzburg, where I presented results that supported the involvement of statoliths in the perception of gravity. This meeting had a strong impact on my research, since at that time the Council of Europe was looking for people interested in performing experiments in Space. Our first experiment (ROOTS) was carried out in the Biorack Facility (ESA) in the frame of the Spacelab D1 mission (1985). We had a very efficient help from CNES which developed a very fine hardware to grow lentil seedlings and to chemically fix them at the end of the experiment. The results obtained were surprising since we observed that in microgravity the statoliths were located at one pole of the statocyte and not distributed at random as it was expected. The goal of the following experiment (Spacelab IML-1 mission, 1992) was to determine the threshold stimulation time at 1 ×g (created by centrifugation). It was estimated at 25 s. In the frame of the SMM/03 and SMM/06 missions (1996, 1997), we proved that the statoliths are attached to actin filaments by motor proteins (myosin) that make these organelles move in one preferential direction in microgravity. The analysis of gravisensitivity with clinostats incited us to compare gravisensitivity of lentil roots grown in microgravity or on a 1 × g centrifuge (SMM05 mission, 1997). It was found that the latter were less sensitive than the former. We showed that this was due to the fact that the statoliths are not distributed in the same way in both cases (microgravity or 1 × g centrifuge). All these studies led us to propose a mode of gravity sensing by plants in which elements of the cytoskeleton and stretch activated ion channels are involved. The last experiment (GRAVI-1) which has been carried out (in ISS with the EMCS facility, 2007) dealt with the threshold acceleration that is perceived by roots.

ELGRA-Medal Award in Life Sciences 2007 presented at the ELGRA Biennial Symposium; September 2007, Florence, Italy.