In the microgravity environment on the space station, Paul and Ferl can study fundamental plant development processes without the masking effects of gravity. Experiments done in space can provide valuable information on plant structure and behavior that translates directly to understanding how these processes work on Earth.
“Taking gravity out of the equation gives us insight into the inherent mechanisms of how plants work. And the better you understand that, the better equipped you are to design experiments on Earth to build better crops and expand productivity—in addition to being able to take plants with us when we leave Earth’s orbit for extended missions or colonies on Mars.” —Anna-Lisa Paul
In their ISS research, Paul and Ferl compared the distribution of a plant hormone called “auxin” in the root tips of plants gown on the space station versus ground controls. They are interested in examining role of gravity in root development, and auxin is involved in orienting roots to grow in the direction of the pull of gravity.
The results of their research showed that although auxin plays a key role in determining how plants respond to gravity, gravity is not involved in establishing the distribution of auxin in root tips, as scientists had long assumed. Instead, the flow of auxin in root tips is a fundamental mechanism of root growth inherent in plants.
Read more about Paul and Ferl’s research in the Upward feature “Staying True to Your Roots: Plant Research on the ISS.”