Red Light Enhances Plant Adaptation to Spaceflight and Mars g-Levels

Life (Basel). 2022 Sep 24;12(10):1484. doi: 10.3390/life12101484.


Understanding how plants respond and adapt to extraterrestrial conditions is essential for space exploration initiatives. Deleterious effects of the space environment on plant development have been reported, such as the unbalance of cell growth and proliferation in the root meristem, or gene expression reprogramming. However, plants are capable of surviving and completing the seed-to-seed life cycle under microgravity. A key research challenge is to identify environmental cues, such as light, which could compensate the negative effects of microgravity. Understanding the crosstalk between light and gravity sensing in space was the major objective of the NASA-ESA Seedling Growth series of spaceflight experiments (2013-2018). Different g-levels were used, with special attention to micro-g, Mars-g, and Earth-g. In spaceflight seedlings illuminated for 4 days with a white light photoperiod and then photostimulated with red light for 2 days, transcriptomic studies showed, first, that red light partially reverted the gene reprogramming induced by microgravity, and that the combination of microgravity and photoactivation was not recognized by seedlings as stressful. Two mutant lines of the nucleolar protein nucleolin exhibited differential requirements in response to red light photoactivation. This observation opens the way to directed-mutagenesis strategies in crop design to be used in space colonization. Further transcriptomic studies at different g-levels showed elevated plastid and mitochondrial genome expression in microgravity, associated with disturbed nucleus-organelle communication, and the upregulation of genes encoding auxin and cytokinin hormonal pathways. At the Mars g-level, genes of hormone pathways related to stress response were activated, together with some transcription factors specifically related to acclimation, suggesting that seedlings grown in partial-g are able to acclimate by modulating genome expression in routes related to space-environment-associated stress.

Keywords: light; microgravity; plant growth; root meristem; spaceflight; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Review