Astrobotanists need to send plants into space to perform their research.  Specifically, astrobotanists typically send the model plant organism Arabidopsis thaliana into space.  A critical detail that not many people may think about is: when should we start growing the plant?  The answer is usually: when it’s in space.  When a plant biology researcher starts their experiment, time is often of the essence.  Critical stages such as germination, flowering, etc. must be monitored closely.  In addition to this, if the plant starts to grow before launch it will experience rapid acceleration that could affect its genetic profile.

So what happens when a plant biologist wants to study a plant in space and they have everything planned out perfectly… and then suddenly the rocket launch is scrubbed due to poor weather conditions?  The plant is already planted.  What to do??

astrobotany seeds arabidopsis rocket launch

A. thaliana is put to asleep using far red light

The answer lies in far-red light.  Seeds are susceptible to lighting and take environmental cues from lighting.  The plant biology community (specifically The Gilroy Lab) has discovered that far-red light can be used to influence seed germination.  Shining far-red light onto seeds has been shown to delay germination as long as the seed is sealed in a completely dark container.  When the seed is exposed to light it can germinate again.

This paper explains the use of far-red light to put seeds to sleep.

Development of Equipment that Uses Far-Red Light to Impose Seed Dormancy in Arabidopsis for Spaceflight

Related Page: Optimal Lighting for Plants in Space