Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers study first-ever soybean harvest from International Space Station

04.11.2002


Like farmers across the nation bringing in their crops this season, researchers in Wisconsin are carefully taking stock of a very special harvest – one grown aboard the International Space Station.


Soybeans growing on Station. (NASA/JSC)



They’ve measured and weighed plants, counted seeds, and collected additional physical information from the first-ever soybean crop grown aboard the orbiting research laboratory.

Now, the research team will begin several months of chemical and biological tests on the plants that will reveal whether microgravity — the low-gravity environment inside the Space Station — has changed the chemical make-up of the seeds.


Soybeans — a leading source of protein in the human diet — are used in a variety of products, from oil to crayons. Finding improved varieties could have a significant economic impact on a soybean business worth billions of dollars each year.

“We want to examine the seeds produced by plants grown on the Station to see if they have any unique, desirable traits,” said Dr. Tom Corbin, a research scientist for Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont subsidiary with headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, and the industrial sponsor for the experiment.

“If we find changes, then we want to know if the positive traits can be inherited genetically by future generations of plants for the benefit of farmers and consumers,” Corbin explained.

Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the orbiting laboratory this month during the STS-112 mission to deliver new experiment equipment and other supplies and return with the soybean plants and other completed experiments.

“This experiment and others are paving the way for improving crops grown on Earth, as well as potentially feeding people living in space,” said Mark Nall, director of NASA’s Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The program has helped companies fly several experiments on the Station by working with one of NASA’s 15 Commercial Space Centers located across America.

“The Space Station is giving companies a chance to grow plants that require several months to mature,” said Nall.

NASA International Space Station Science Officer Peggy Whitson took care of the soybeans on the Station since the experiment began in June. In one of her e-mail letters to family and friends this summer, she reported, “The beans looked mature and the leaves are turning brown.”

The plants and seed pods were turning brown because scientists wanted them to dry out and be preserved for tests on Earth.

It turned out to be a very good crop.

“The first soybean crop grown in space returned in excellent condition, and a total of 83 seeds were harvested from 42 seed pods,” said Dr. Weijia Zhou, director of the Wisconsin Space Center for Automation and Robotics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Since a plant’s habitat plays a key role in determining the physiological and biological characteristics of the plant, we believe that reduced gravity may affect plant chemistry.”

The Wisconsin center is a NASA Commercial Space Center, and was responsible for building the Advanced Astroculture™ plant growth chamber where the soybeans germinated and grew for 97 days.

“We will analyze the oil, proteins, carbohydrates and secondary metabolites in the seeds produced in space,” noted Corbin, whose company is the largest seed company in the world. “We will continue analysis of the soybeans at Pioneer’s laboratory in Johnston, Iowa, and we anticipate having results in two to three months.”

NASA is interested in the technologies that enable production of commercially important crops like soybeans in space because these technologies will be needed to produce vegetable crops that support a long-term human presence in space.

Can new varieties of crops be produced using seeds produced by space-grown plants? Do these space plants produce seeds with higher oil content or improved nutritional value? Can elite seeds be produced that will improve farmers’ crop yields and the quality of plants products used in consumer products?

Zhou and Corbin hope to begin answering these questions by analyzing the space-grown plants and seeds. On Earth, the development of naturally bred crop seeds is time consuming, usually taking several years. If this process can be accelerated with space-grown, plants, it would make the Station an attractive research laboratory for industry to use in crop development.

“As a science company, DuPont knows that future research opportunities may come from totally different venues and needs as we look ahead,” said Dr. Thomas M. Connelly, DuPont’s chief science and technology officer. “The discovery process often requires exploring in unprecedented avenues to unleash the next wave of innovation, and we are committed to discovering new and meaningful innovation wherever it is.”

Growing plants in space could provide salads for future space crews, but they also may bring other psychological and biological benefits.

When she first saw the growing soybeans, Whitson, an Iowa native, reported in an e-mail letter home to family and friends, “It was surprising to me how great soybean plants looked. I guess seeing something green for the first time in a month and a half had a real effect. I think it’s interesting that the reaction was as dramatic as it was…guess if we go to Mars, we need a garden!”

Over the next few months, Whitson will continue her gardening duties, tending a crop of mustard plants that will soon be growing inside the Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus — designed and built by BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA Commercial Space Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wis., and the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., which also has grown plants on the Station, and a consortium of industries, are partners on the experiment.

“This is the first in a series of Space Station plant experiments that will study the role of gravity in producing lignin, a substance that affects the strength of plant stalks and stems,” said Louis Stodieck, director of BioServe Space Technologies. “Identifying the genes that control lignin production in plants has broad applications in the timber and pharmaceutical industries.”

Plants need lignin for strength to stand upright under the force of Earth’s gravity. But this chemical must be removed to produce paper — a costly process that results in pollution. Reducing the lignin content of plants could make it less expensive to produce paper and reduce pollution.

Another significant benefit of growing plants in space is the educational benefit. Space Explorers, Inc., a commercial firm in Green Bay, Wis., produces Internet-based, space education programs. The company used data from the ADVANCED ASTROCULTURE™ experiments to create the "Orbital Laboratory" educational software program. It allows students to design, conduct and analyze plant experiments on the Space Station.

Then they can compare data through an online student experiment database. After the experiment is finished on the Space Station, students can use actual data from the experiment to recreate the experiment in a virtual environment.

During Expedition Five, students from California to New York grew soybeans and dwarf wheat plants, similar to those already grown on the Station, under nine different growing conditions. Via the Internet, they shared their results and how those results might affect plants grown on long-term space missions.

This and other Space Product Development experiments are sponsored by the Office of Biological and Physical Research at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Steve Roy | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona

nachricht Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>