February 18, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Seedlings Germinated on Space Station Arrive in Athens

Unloading the FedEx truck in the snow.

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor cold—nothing stopped the special FedEx delivery from Kennedy Space Center to Ohio University this morning, Feb. 18.

Critical Space Item labelThe box labeled “Critical Space Item” was the only thing in the freezer truck, driven overnight by a two-person team of FedEx drivers, who encountered plenty of weather along the way, first in the Carolinas, then just an hour of out Athens. They hit a blitz of snow that slowed their last hour to a crawl.

But Dr. Sarah Wyatt and her students were all smiles as their NASA-funded plant-gravity experiment—flown on the International Space Station—arrived at Porter Hall. Both the space flight material and the ground samples were quickly unpacked and put into the minus-80-degree freezer in the Wyatt Lab.

Wyatt, Professor of Environmental & Plant Biology and principle investigator on the project, was at Kennedy with student Colin Kruse on Feb. 17 “de-integrating” the science experiment from the canister that flew in space and from the ground control canister.

Sarah Wyatt and Colin Kruse unpack the frozen samples.

Sarah Wyatt and Colin Kruse unpack the frozen samples.

OHIO Team Gravitron Experiment

Ohio University’s Team Gravitron plants-and-gravity experiment launched Jan. 10 and docked with the International Space Station today, Jan. 12.

In her lab in Porter Hall, Wyatt and her students will extract proteins from the germinated seedlings, and those samples will be sent to Danforth Research Center near St. Louis for the mass spectrometry proteomics analysis. They are studying the signal-induced gravitropic response in Arabidopsis thaliana.

“We’re looking for protein identification and qualification,” Wyatt says. “It breaks the compounds up, and then you can match up the fragments with known proteins so you can identify what proteins are there. And the mass spectrometry also gives you a relative quantity of the proteins.”

The ground control and space-flight samples will be analyzed for protein expression. The variable between the samples is called “space-flight environment,” where micro-gravity and other factors such as radiation impact the space station environment.

“I’m expecting that we’re going to see differences, especially in the post-translation or modification of proteins that are trying to respond to gravity—or they’re not responding because they have no gravitational signal to respond to.”

“I’m trying to figure out what the signal is here on Earth, and on Earth you can’t really figure that out because you don’t have the control.” What Wyatt expects to find—within an already transcribed gene—is a protein getting turned on and turned off in response to the gravity signal.

How Do Plants Know Which Way is Up?

Gravity. Not the sun. Plants do not grow “up” because they are attracted to sunlight. They grow up because they are responding to gravity.

On the International Space Station, Wyatt’s Arabidopsis thaliana seeds germinated and grew in the dark. A control lab at Kennedy—and one in the Wyatt lab—mirrored the space conditions—with gravity as the main variable.

When seedlings germinate in the soil, gravitational signaling tells them which way to grow, and it was that gravitropic signaling that Wyatt began exploring about 15 years ago. At that time, scientists knew almost nothing about how plants “signaled” gravity. Now hers is one of only a few labs in the world—including one in Wisconsin and one in Japan—studying how plants respond to gravity.

Follow the step-by-step at the Wyatt Lab Facebook.

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