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NC State Researchers' plants return to earth, await analysis

Arabidopsis thaliana plant
Dr. Mengying Wang
North Carolina State University/NASA
Depicted above is a small region of the roots of an Arabidopsis thaliana plant that will help scientists study an internal plant structure called vacuoles in the Biological Research In Canisters-24, or BRIC-24 experiment. This experiment launched to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply services mission, and might help lead to better understanding of how plants detect and respond to gravity.

After weeks hovering around the planet in the International Space Station, an experiment by N.C. State University microbiologists and other researchers has returned to earth.

All that's left for researchers is to analyze the plants and data they provide about how their genetic code is altered while growing in low and micro-gravity. Which could help figure out whether humans could grow plants where they might one day live, like Mars or the moon.

Imara Perera is a research professor of microbiology at N.C. State. Perera says the plants that were growing in micro-gravity should be shipped to Raleigh for analysis in the next week or so.

Perera said plants have several needs to grow: Light, gravity, water and nutrients.

"Light and gravity are really, really critical," Perera said. "And so I think if we provide all the other factors, maybe gravity will be less of a stress."

Doctoral student researcher Eric Land says planning for growing and harvesting food in greenhouses on other planets isn't the only use for seeing how plants grow in micro-gravity.

"This is a major benefit to the astronauts or whomever might be on a space flight sometime," Land said. "To have this little piece of earth that you take care of and watch grow, and, you know, remind you of home."

Land says that could be especially important in the future for long haul space flights or voyages.

Imara Perera says, anecdotally, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station loved the plants.

Cole del Charco is WUNC’s morning reporter. He’s worked for WUNC since 2019.
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