New Horizons in Science

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When you go to Mars, take a towel—and a handful of seeds

Topic: Space Agriculture
Mixture of seeds including common beans, lentils and split peas
Sunday, November 3, 2013 -
1:45pm to 2:30pm
Century Ballroom B

For Anna-Lisa Paul, taking plants into a space is a way of understanding just what they’re made of. Challenged to survive outside their ancestral environment, plants leverage a unique genetic toolkit to adapt to new challenges; in the process, they reveal how they work. Usinc zero-g experiments, for example, Paul and her colleagues achieved a new understanding of how plants’ roots grow, upending a long-held theory that gravity holds the key. She is currently combining parabolic flight and orbital experiments with imaging and gene expression studies. Fully understanding how plants survive and grow under extreme conditions, she says, will advance the biology needed to understand how all higher organisms survive in space. Not to mention the practical importance of having a packet of hardy seeds along on your journey. “You don’t go anywhere without your plants,” says Paul. “Plants will find a way. They’ll survive, and they’ll give us what we need.”


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