Now that the International Space Station is in orbit, researchers can plan experiments to determine how micro gravity affects plant growth and development, Boss says.
The research by Boss and her colleagues focuses on inositol trisphosphate (InsP3), a molecule used in a wide variety of life forms to transmit chemical signals between an organism's cells. Human brain cells, for example, are a rich source of inositol trisphosphate and contain some of the highest levels of receptors for the chemical found in the human body.
"Why would plants have a signaling pathway similar to brain cells?" Boss asked. "We can't answer that, but we can explain how the chemical signaling pathway functions in plants and how that compares to the pathway found in animal cells."
While plants have not evolved to contain the sophisticated, multifaceted signaling pathways of human brain cells, Boss explains, they do contain some of the more basic components, which help plants sense and respond to changes in their environment. Specifically, the NC State researchers have found that inositol trisphosphate appears essential for plants to "perceive" a change in their orientation relative to gravity, and to respond by growing in the proper direction.
Boss and three colleagues Dr. Imara Perera and Dr. Ingo Heilmann, NC State botany research associates, and Dr. Peter B. Kaufman, professor emeritus of plant physiology and plant biotechnology at the University of Michigan analyzed the amount of InsP3 present in specialized cells at the base of maize and oat stems. Those cells are in the pulvinus, a specialized region of a plant stem which causes a stem to bend upward after a plant has fallen over.
The researchers found that, within 15 seconds after the plants are placed on their sides, the amount of the chemical surges fivefold in the pulvinus cells.
Additionally, the researchers discovered that the amount of InsP3 fluctuates between the upper and lower halves of t
Contact: Dr. Wendy Boss
North Carolina State University