How does space radiation affect plants? • Earth.com

From food and water purification to oxygen production and CO2 removal, plants They are essential for life on Earth. Now, with technological advances like rockets and other exploration devices, astronauts can reach the Moon and beyond.

However, as POT explores the potential for longer space flights, extended stays on the International Space Station, or even the future colonization of the moon or planets like Mars, scientists are well aware that plants are also necessary to survive in outer space. However, it is not yet clear how exposure to extreme environmental factors related to space travel, such as microgravity or space radiation, can affect biological systems such as plants.

In a new research project led by the Texas A&M University Funded by NASA, a team of researchers will explore how radiation exposure in space affects plants’ telomeres, which are the building blocks of their DNA, located at the end of chromosomes, and play a crucial role in maintaining healthy and stable chromosomes. . However, telomeres are far from static. In fact, they continually contract and expand due to environmental stressors, and if they get out of their normal range, they often lose their protective function.

“Obviously, plants are very important for space travel, and from a practical point of view, we want to understand how we can help them survive in the extreme conditions of space,” said project leader Dorothy Shippen, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. at Texas A&M. . “There’s so much we don’t know, but this telomere research will answer some of the basic questions we have related to plants and space radiation.”

“There is interest in telomeres because they are related to survivability and it turns out that the environment can influence the size of the telomeric DNA tract. Telomeres are like a reporter of the physiological health of organisms and a biomarker of their ability to be healthy. We are interested in understanding how plants respond to space radiation stress and then figuring out how to protect them,” he explained.

The researchers hypothesize that exposure to space radiation may trigger oxidation of the genome and an increase in the activity of telomerase, a specialized enzyme that plays a crucial role in the maintenance of telomeric DNA. Preliminary data from plant seedlings sent to low-Earth orbit on a previous spaceflight have shown that while the length of plant telomeres did not change, telomerase activity increased 150-fold.

“This is all very new, and we need to understand how this radiation exposure plays out,” said Borja Barbero Barcenilla, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M who will also be involved in the project. “Right now, the level of radiation these samples were exposed to in our preliminary low-Earth orbit experiments aboard the International Space Station is much lower than what they will experience on the Moon or Mars. Radiation exposure will increase exponentially on those missions, so we need to understand how plants will react to much higher levels of radiation.”

Over the next few years, the scientists aim to comprehensively investigate how space radiation affects plants from seed to flower, as well as across generations. “I think we are in a very good position to deliver some interesting data. We have the right collaborators and we feel privileged that NASA sees the value of these experiments and trusts us,” Shippen concluded.

By Andrei Ionescu, staff writer for Earth.com

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