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Modification of reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana under spaceflight conditions


Reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana (L.) Heynh. cv. Columbia plants was investigated under spaceflight conditions on shuttle mission STS-51. Plants launched just prior to initiation of the reproductive phase developed flowers and siliques during the 10-d flight. Approximately 500 flowers were produced in total by the 12 plants in both the ground control and spaceflight material, and there was no significant difference in the number of flowers in each size class. The flower buds and siliques of the spaceflight plants were not morphologically different from the ground controls. Pollen viability tests immediately post-flight using fluorescein diacetate indicated that about 35% of the pollen was viable in the spaceflight material. Light-microscopy observations on this material showed that the female gametophytes also had developed normally to maturity. However, siliques from the spaceflight plants contained empty, shrunken ovules, and no evidence of pollen transfer to stigmatic papillae was found by light microscopy immediately post-flight or by scanning electron microscopy on fixed material. Short stamen length and indehiscent anthers were observed in the spaceflight material, and a film-like substance inside the anther that connected to the tapetum appeared to restrict the release of pollen from the anthers. These observations indicate that given appropriate growing conditions, early reproductive development in A. thaliana can occur normally under spaceflight conditions. On STS-51, reproductive development aborted due to obstacles in pollination or fertilization.

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Correspondence to Mary E. Musgrave.

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Denyse Cummins took part in material preparation and Ying Xiao was involved in microtomy and darkroom work. We thank the personnel at the Life Sciences Support Facility, Kennedy Space Center, for their support, and Dr. Shirley C. Tucker, Department of Plant Biology, LSU, for critical review of the manuscript. The project was funded by NASA Space Biology grants NAG10-0075 and NGT-51097 to M.E. Musgrave. Approved by the Director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station as publication # 95-38-9006.

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Kuang, A., Musgrave, M.E. & Matthews, S.W. Modification of reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana under spaceflight conditions. Planta 198, 588–594 (1996).

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Key words

  • Arabidopsis
  • Female gametophyte
  • Pollen
  • Reproduction
  • Spaceflight