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Study: Microgravity May Enhance Gene Transfer In Plants

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Why are genes behaving differently in space? Bula says cell materials do not settle out in microgravity, which allows more freedom of movement. With a minimum of physical factors to limit the mobility of bacteria, Bula says, they hit their target more easily.

Gene transfer techniques are increasingly important to the agriculture industry, as it looks for faster and more selective alternatives to complement traditional plant breeding. Bula says that this growing season, genetically engineered varieties are expected to make up 70 percent of all soybeans planted nationally. "We will be growing crops in the future for more than just food, clothing or energy," says Bula. "Medical vaccines can be incorporated into plants to provide natural protection from disease. Genes that can make plants resistant to insects will greatly reduce chemical pesticide use."

The gene in this experiment was a marker gene, which is fluorescent and can be easily tracked. In future experiments, Bula says plans are to transfer a gene that has been shown to relieve certain human autoimmune diseases.

All the interest in conducting gene transfer in space is far from an academic exercise. Fully 30 percent of the International Space Station, now being assembled in orbit, is dedicated to private commercial use. Companies involved in plant genetic engineering are potential users of this new facility.


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Contact: Ray Bula
608-798-3772
University of Wisconsin-Madison
19-Apr-1999


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