The RISE Network at UNCG periodically hosts STEM-based presentations, and I was able to attend one recently (9.27.16) on "Space...the final frontier...for plants" by the new Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, John Kiss. Kiss spoke about his work with NASA on plant biology. The highlights:
- He started off by describing the importance of space as a laboratory for plant biology. Long distance (and long-term) space travel will likely require some sort of bioregenerative ecosystem, so it is critical to understand how plants grow in space. What's also interesting is that plants, by providing a tangible connection to Earth, appear to have a positive psychological effect on humans in isolated contexts (like space).
- While the space travel angle is all well and good, Kiss's academic interests lie in the effect of zero- and micro-gravity on plant physiology. More specifically, he and his colleagues are looking at a phenomenon called "red light induced phototropism." Phototropism is simply growth in response to light; we see this all the time when plants grow "towards" a source of light. As I understand it, most modern plants, especially flowering and seeding plants, are sensitive to the type of light that they respond to (light in the blue area of the spectrum seems to be preferred). Ancient lineages, on the other hand, appear not to care much about the wavelength. The effect may be very slight, however, and can be confounded by gravity. Kiss and his colleagues are using Arabidopsis in a zero gravity environment to determine if red light induced phototropism is present (it appears as if it is).