An endogenous growth pattern of roots is revealed in seedlings grown in microgravity

Astrobiology. 2011 Oct;11(8):787-97. doi: 10.1089/ast.2011.0699. Epub 2011 Oct 4.


In plants, sensitive and selective mechanisms have evolved to perceive and respond to light and gravity. We investigated the effects of microgravity on the growth and development of Arabidopsis thaliana (ecotype Landsberg) in a spaceflight experiment. These studies were performed with the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware system in the middeck region of the space shuttle during mission STS-131 in April 2010. Seedlings were grown on nutrient agar in Petri dishes in BRIC hardware under dark conditions and then fixed in flight with paraformaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, or RNAlater. Although the long-term objective was to study the role of the actin cytoskeleton in gravity perception, in this article we focus on the analysis of morphology of seedlings that developed in microgravity. While previous spaceflight studies noted deleterious morphological effects due to the accumulation of ethylene gas, no such effects were observed in seedlings grown with the BRIC system. Seed germination was 89% in the spaceflight experiment and 91% in the ground control, and seedlings grew equally well in both conditions. However, roots of space-grown seedlings exhibited a significant difference (compared to the ground controls) in overall growth patterns in that they skewed to one direction. In addition, a greater number of adventitious roots formed from the axis of the hypocotyls in the flight-grown plants. Our hypothesis is that an endogenous response in plants causes the roots to skew and that this default growth response is largely masked by the normal 1 g conditions on Earth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development*
  • Arabidopsis / metabolism
  • Germination
  • Plant Roots / growth & development*
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Seedlings / growth & development*
  • Seedlings / metabolism
  • Space Flight
  • Weightlessness*