WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Biotechnology may have found a new home in space, based on research that found genetic engineering in microgravity was 10 times more successful than on earth.
Purdue University's Richard Vierling is preparing to have his successful soybean DNA transplant experiments recreated on board a NASA space shuttle scheduled for launch April 13. Vierling's first microgravity experiments were conducted in late 1998 by the oldest man to ever fly in space, former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn.
Those experiments, which tested whether DNA transfer could be conducted in microgravity, proved not only that it could be done, but also that it was more successful and efficient than DNA transfers in a control group here on earth.
Of the soybean seedlings from the first space experiment, 9 percent exhibited the trait introduced. On earth, less than 1 percent of the control group showed the trait. "The rate of transient expression in a space environment was more than tenfold over the success rate of a comparable terrestrial experiment," Vierling says.
Those experiments seem to indicate that space may be a better environment for conducting gene transfers. "Genes were transferred more efficiently to targeted cells in space than on earth. The results were so significant, we're going to improve our experiments and try them again," he says.
Vierling, an adjunct associate professor of agronomy, is also director of the Indiana Crop Improvement genetics program. He is working on this project in conjunction with Stephen Goldman, a professor of biology at the University of Toledo. Their initial success was reported in the January 2000 edition of the journal Chemical Innovation produced by the American Chemical Society.
Vierling says despite modern advances in biotechnology, genetic engineering is still a very inexact science. "Some plant species are easier to work with than others," he says. "Soybeans in particular are very ineffici
Contact: Beth Forbes