Plant growth and physiology in space have been of increasing interest and concern as the possibilities for long-term manned space flights have increased. In a Martian space flight scenario it has been suggested that the consumption of crops growing in a regenerative life support system e.g. MELISSA would be beneficial to crew functional and health status. In addition to delivering oxygen and water plants can be an essential source of carbohydrates, amino acids, lipids and essential vitamins. Microgreens being young and tender seedlings of a variety of plants, have been indicated as ideal candidates for this based on their wide variety in colours, flavours and textures
Space conditions will also impose stress on plants on several fronts. Plants are growing in microgravity, in concealed containers, in an atmosphere often enriched in carbon dioxide and the plant hormone ethylene but low in oxygen and they are exposed to enhanced levels of radiation.
This project will test the hypothesis that space conditions can alter plants growth, photosynthesis and nutritional value and that this can lead to enhanced plant stress. On a number of selected microgreen plants we will set up experiments in which plants are grown in enhanced levels of radiation, lower gravity and changed external environmental conditions as would be expected to occur in space. In addition to plant’s growth and photosynthesis, the nutritional value of the plants and the induction of oxidative stress and/or DNA damage will be determined. The outcome of this project would be a recommended list of microgreens that could serve as astronaut’s food as well increased knowledge on how space conditions affect nutritional value and growth of plants.
Special focus will be on analyzing the oxidative stress and DNA damage response as well as on the nutritional value of the plants. For the health status and nutritional value different parameters at individual (photosynthesis), cellular (sugar, nitrogen status, protein, antioxidative metabolites and enzyme activity,…) will be followed. In addition the expression of a number genes encoding for key-steps in the oxidative stress and DNA damage response as well as important epigenetic marks will give insights in possible alterations in the plant stress response when exposed to adverse, space related conditions.
Following techniques will be applied:
- setting up plants experiments mimicking space conditions,
- biomonitoring of growth and photosynthesis of the plants
- biochemical analysis of nutritional parameters: sugar, lipids, proteins, ions, nitrogen status,…
- biochemical analysis of antioxidants and antioxidative enzymes and other markers of oxidative stress
- isolation of DNA and RNA to measure measuring induction of DNA damage, changes in specific epigenetic marks and relative gene expression of specific genes important in oxidative stress, DNA damage and repair and health of the plants.