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Gravity independence of seed-to-seed cycling in Brassica rapa


 Growth of higher plants in the microgravity environment of orbital platforms has been problematic. Plants typically developed more slowly in space and often failed at the reproductive phase. Short-duration experiments on the Space Shuttle showed that early stages in the reproductive process could occur normally in microgravity, so we sought a long-duration opportunity to test gravity's role throughout the complete life cycle. During a 122-d opportunity on the Mir space station, full life cycles were completed in microgravity with Brassica rapa L. in a series of three experiments in the Svet greenhouse. Plant material was preserved in space by chemical fixation, freezing, and drying, and then compared to material preserved in the same way during a high-fidelity ground control. At sampling times 13 d after planting, plants on Mir were the same size and had the same number of flower buds as ground control plants. Following hand-pollination of the flowers by the astronaut, siliques formed. In microgravity, siliques ripened basipetally and contained smaller seeds with less than 20% of the cotyledon cells found in the seeds harvested from the ground control. Cytochemical localization of storage reserves in the mature embryos showed that starch was retained in the spaceflight material, whereas protein and lipid were the primary storage reserves in the ground control seeds. While these successful seed-to-seed cycles show that gravity is not absolutely required for any step in the plant life cycle, seed quality in Brassica is compromised by development in microgravity.

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Received: 3 August 1999 / Accepted: 27 August 1999

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Musgrave, M., Kuang, A., Xiao, Y. et al. Gravity independence of seed-to-seed cycling in Brassica rapa . Planta 210, 400–406 (2000).

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  • Key words: Brassica (development, spaceflight) – Microgravity – Seed – Spaceflight – Starch