Fundamentals of space biology: research on cells, animals, and plants in space

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As discussed above, the absence of the 2. The avian development and insect units can provide some relief when they become available, but even there, uncertainties surrounding crew time for research and hardware lead to a less-than-positive sense of potential. The expanded use of lower organisms such as the fruit fly and C. The Strategy report NRC, noted that engineering demands and expense, and the difficulty of repeating experiments in space in sufficient number for analysis, place substantial burdens on the testing of hypotheses about the role of gravity in normal developmental events.

These issues are highly relevant to cell and developmental biology and are exacerbated in the current climate of ISS cutbacks, as is reflected in the minimal level of research in cell and developmental biology that is currently being carried out on or planned for the ISS. The question for the present evaluation, then, is whether the ISS can, in its expected Core Complete configuration, carry out high-quality research aimed at answering basic questions in cell and developmental biology.

Without proper resolution of the issues raised above, it may be necessary to further delay studies of this nature in cell and developmental biology on the ISS, emphasizing in the interim basic ground-based research. In fact, as stated in the guidelines in the Strategy report NRC, , there are substantial issues that can, and must, be settled first by ground-based research, including most prominently the testing of protocols and equipment.

However, for this approach to be effective, it will be essential to provide sufficient funds to perform the recommended research. As outlined throughout the previous sections, many factors limit utilization of the ISS for fundamental biological research in cell and developmental biology.

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They include the elimination of key facilities and equipment or uncertain delays in their installation, inadequate crew time for research, and the absence of a concrete set of research priorities within which to plan. Limitations on funding for developing experiments are an additional concern; for example, funding for fundamental biology in OBPR has remained at a plateau level for several years. Overlying these important specific issues, however, is a pervasive uncertainty as to if and when relief from these problems can reasonably be expected.

At the level of prudent experimental planning, there is a discomfortingly long time line from initial conceptualization to actualization of a study, bringing further uncertainties about whether a study will still be state of the art in concept and approach by the time it can be flown. These uncertainties negatively impact not only the ability to develop scientific strategies but also investigator morale and commitment. It is clear that many opportunities originally envisioned for research in cell and developmental biology have been dramatically curtailed.

There is concern as to whether the current Core Complete stage of the ISS can truly support the highest-quality cutting-edge research in cell and developmental biology. Nevertheless, it appears that some possibilities may exist. Blumberg and K. Baldwin, was convened to explore the type, scope, and value of biological research that could be best accomplished on the ISS, given the constraints of the present realities.

To carry out high-quality science is difficult under the best of conditions. The challenge for ISS research is to identify, within current vehicle constraints, high-priority, high-quality, hypothesis-driven experiments that can be sufficiently replicated and validated with adequate controls, including in-flight gravitational controls. Careful ground-based evaluation of facilities and experiments in advance flight, always important, becomes even more critical now in order to ensure that meager opportunities are not wasted. Care must be taken not to succumb to the temptation to carry out a particular experiment simply because it is possible, especially if the research will be weak, uncontrolled, and of low priority.

One way to maximize the potential for research in cell and developmental biology would, of course, be to resurrect the missing funding and facilities, including a proposed buyback of rodent and plant research capability. In the absence of such facilities, meaningful studies of vertebrates will be difficult, but a carefully chosen small set of insects and simpler multicellular eukaryotic organisms, such as drosophila and C. Organisms for which the entire genome has been sequenced should be given priority.

The European Biolab offers an excellent model that should be investigated in this regard ESA, ; this unit, which will include two cm centrifuges, is designed for experiments involving cell culture, microorganisms, and small invertebrates. NASA should encourage the development and deployment of this unit and work to ensure that it will be available for use by U. The admonition of the Strategy report NRC, —to carefully evaluate experiments with cells in culture prior to flight with regard to their theoretical and practical justification—remains a timely recommendation and should be included in the planning of all future experiments.

Vigilance will have to be continued to discriminate between effects directly related to microgravity from those arising secondarily from environmental variables such as perturbations in diffusion, turbulence, and radiation, for example. Adequate funding should be provided to encourage this ground-based preparation and to help maintain the scientific community for the future.

Even when specific questions and appropriate systems can be identified, experiments will have to be planned that require a minimum of crew time. Advances in biotechnology, in-flight automation, telecommunication, miniaturization of systems, and bioinformatics for online data offer some hope. The concept of sending up material at low temperature for study at physiological temperatures on the ISS also offers potential. At the other end of the experimental time line, facilities for cryo-storage of selected biological material prior to return must be developed and placed on the ISS in order to optimize options for postflight sample analysis on Earth.

The study of plants in space is driven by two objectives NRC, The first is to determine how best to grow plants in a spacecraft environment. These long-duration stays by humans in space, cut off from constant resupply from Earth, will require that the astronauts be able to produce at least some of their own food. Therefore the farming of plants in space, as part of an advanced life support ALS system, will be a necessity.

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Growing plants efficiently and successfully in space has proven to be difficult. There are practical problems to overcome, such as how best to get water to the roots without subjecting them to anaerobic conditions, or how best to handle the elevated levels of carbon dioxide and ethylene that are commonly found in human-occupied spacecraft. For each potential crop, the optimal light intensity and quality and the maximal crop density must be known. Most of the important problems have been identified, and solutions have been proposed.

Tests of these solutions have thus far produced promising results WCSAR, , but there are still significant technical barriers to overcome. A few responses to gravity, such as gravitropism and circumnutation, are already well known and have been studied extensively on Earth.

The pivotal question requiring experiments with plants in space, as explained in the Strategy report NRC, , had been whether a plant can successfully go through its complete life cycle in microgravity. The repeated failure of the Russians to grow any plant through a full generation in space had increased the importance of performing a definitive experiment to answer this question. In fact, it has been recognized by the plant gravitational biology community that a plant should be grown through at least two successive generations in space, in order to answer this question NRC, Ideally the experiment should have an on-board 1- g centrifuge control, but despite the lack of a centrifuge control and less than optimal conditions, this question has now been answered.

An experiment on Mir, using Brassica rapa , succeeded in growing the plants through more than two complete generations, despite many technical difficulties Musgrave et al. These experiments effectively eliminate the possibility that gravity is a requirement at some stage for the survival of plants, but there is still a real possibility that a lack of gravity might alter some aspect of plant development or physiology. Spaceflight experiments to date have shown some minor effects of the microgravity environment on plant development.

However, the lack of a 1- g on-board control has made it impossible to separate responses caused by a lack of gravity from responses to other parameters of spaceflight, such as vibration, enhanced carbon dioxide, or lack of air circulation. Moreover, many plant processes, such as photosynthesis, have never been studied in a microgravity environment. Since the early days of ISS planning it has been envisioned that the ISS would contain two facilities essential for plant science experiments.

NASA Wants to Know If Space Travel Affects Plant and Animal Evolution - Nextgov

The first is a plant research unit PRU in which to grow plants and conduct long-term experiments on plants under conditions of controlled light intensity, temperature, carbon dioxide, and humidity. This unit would not contain a centrifuge, but it would be capable of being attached to a large-diameter centrifuge see below.

The PRU, in the absence of a centrifuge, would be suitable for the range of ALS experiments whose goal is to learn how to grow plants in space but not for the experiments in fundamental biology, whose goal is to understand the mechanisms by which plants respond to gravity. The second facility is a 2. It would provide the 1- g conditions needed as controls for microgravity experiments on the ISS.

The combination of the PRU and the centrifuge would provide a suitable facility for experiments in fundamental plant biology. Two PRUs have already been built in the United States, and both have been or are being flight tested.

The units differ with respect to the size of the plants that can be accommodated and the parameters that are controlled; each unit would be of particular value for a specific set of plant experiments. This unit is a two-middeck-locker-equivalent unit and will not fit on the large centrifuge in its present state but could be modified to fit the centrifuge.

It will accommodate plants up to 12 inches high. It will be available for both commercial and fundamental plant research aboard the ISS.

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This biomass production system BPS will not fit on the centrifuge in its current configuration. However, funds to continue this work have been eliminated, and the current BPS unit is probably not suitable for future use on the ISS. The status of the 2. The current plans are for deployment of the centrifuge in at the earliest.

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Hide details. Abstract : This book is intended as an overview at an undergraduate or early university level and describes the effects of spaceflight at cellular and organism levels. Past, current, and future research on the effects of gravity - or its absence - and ionizing radiation on the evolution, development, and function of living organisms is presented in layman's terms by researchers who have been active in this field.

The purpose is to enlighten science and non-science readers to the benefits of space biology research for conducting basic and applied research to support human exploration of space and to take advantage of the space environment as a laboratory for scientific, technological, and commercial research. The first chapters present an overview of the major focuses of space research in biology, as well as the history and the list of animals and plants that have flown in space to date.

The following chapters describe the main results of space studies in gravitational biology, developmental biology, radiation biology, and biotechnology. It then goes on to review life support in microgravity and the major effects of space on the human body. Level: Intermediate-Advanced Availability: Available online here. Summary: The Skylab program offered the first chance to perform long-term medical research in microgravity.

Most Skylab medical experiments were designed to provide an indepth study of individual body systems and at the same time provide an overlap to give comprehensive understanding of man's reaction to long-term weightless flight. This book presents the significant medical results from the three manned Skylab missions. Summary: The Apollo program launched the first and only non-orbital manned space flight missions, which presented new challenges in space medicine.