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


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.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Bioregenerative life support system


Biomass production system


Biological Research in Canisters


Communication and data system


Days after imbibition


International Space Station


Kennedy Space Center


Liquid nitrogen


National Aeronautics and Space Association


Orbiter environment simulator

P net :

Net photosynthesis rate


Photosynthetically active radiation


Photosynthesis experiment system testing and operation


Plant growth chamber


Photosynthetic photon flux


Photosystem I


Photosystem II


Quantum yield


Space transport system


Whole chain electron transport


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This research was funded in whole or in part by a grant from the Office of Biological and Physical Research of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The authors gratefully acknowledge support of Sylvia Anderson for data collection and summarization, F. Bennett, Electron Microscopy Core Facility, University of Florida, Gainesville for preparation of electron micrographs, M. Giroux, Montana State University, Bozeman MT for wheat microarrays, D. Laudencia-Chingcuanco, USDA, Albany, CA for hybridization of microarray chips, M. Popp, Molecular Biology Core Facility, University of Florida, Gainesville, for analysis of gene expression data, N. Chatterdon, USDA-ARS, Logan, UT for soluble sugar analysis. The authors acknowledge the support of personnel at Orbitec (Madison, WI), Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, Kennedy Space Center, FL, Johnson Space Center, TX, and Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. Finally, the authors wish to express their gratitude to ISS Increment IV Flight Engineer Dan Bursch for his commitment to microgravity research.

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Stutte, G.W., Monje, O., Hatfield, R.D. et al. Microgravity effects on leaf morphology, cell structure, carbon metabolism and mRNA expression of dwarf wheat. Planta 224, 1038–1049 (2006).

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