The Genetics of Astrobotany




To truly understand how spaceflight affects plant biology, researchers must look closer. And so we turn to genetics.

Genetics explains how DNA is the blueprint for biological functions. Though your DNA codes every cell in your body, it is not concrete. Genes are expressed differently in different environments, through gene regulation, epigenetics, etc. Astrobotany researchers can look at how genes are expressed differently in spaceflight using molecular biology techniques. By understanding what is happening at the molecular level, we can gain a more thorough understanding of how spaceflight affects plant biology.

Below is a list of plant biology gene families that are regulated by spaceflight

Peroxidases

Peroxidases are a large family of enzymes that  catalyze oxidative reactions.  They are known to have a chemical relationship with reactive oxygen species (ROS).  Two examples of ROS are hydrogen peroxide and superoxide anions.  These are known to be implicated in cellular harm and are the cause of oxidative stress but interestingly also have a role in regulating cell elongation, division and aging.  Peroxidases can use peroxides as a substrate and subsequently can “scavenge” ROS, but they can also produce ROS in environments where autoxidation is hindered.  Focusing on plant biology, some studies conclude that peroxidases play a role in plant defense to environmental stress (cold and salt), and a spaceflight experiment concluded that peroxidases’ production of ROS leads to stunted growth in root hairs.

Transcriptional response of Arabidopsis seedlings during spaceflight reveals peroxidase and cell wall remodeling genes associated with root hair development.

Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs)

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