Oct 19, 2022

NASA Selects 7 Space Biology Plant Studies to Help Enable Explorers to Boldly Grow Where No One Has Grown Before

NASA announces the award of 7 grants or cooperative agreements for exciting new space biology research that will advance NASA’s understanding of how plants respond, acclimate and adapt to the space environment in support of human space exploration. Proposals for these projects were submitted in response to ROSES-2021 Program Element E.9 “Space Biology: Plant Studies” (NNH21ZDA001N-SBPS).

As human exploration prepares to go beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division (BPS) is shifting its research priorities towards work that will enable organisms to Thrive In DEep Space (TIDES). These efforts will focus on determining the effects of multiple deep-space stressors, including deep space radiation and reduced gravity on plants that either serve as model organisms or can be used to produce food for crew.

The funding opportunity requesting these studies was created as a collaboration between BPS and the Space Radiation Element of the Human Research Program. While plant studies are of relevance to the fundamental science interests within space biology, the nutritional benefits of growing plants in LEO and/or in deep space for astronauts make plant research valuable to the Human Research Program, who will provide access to the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory for some of the awarded studies.

The awarded proposals include an International Space Station study as well as multiple ground-based projects. Selected studies involve, but are not limited to, efforts to 1) characterize how plant and microbial interactions are affected by space radiation in combination with changes in gravity, 2) develop methods to grow plants in hostile environments that recapitulate aspects of the lunar and Martian surfaces, and 3) understand how space-related stressors, including radiation, impact plant telomere length and stability, a target that is universal to eukaryotes.

Seven investigators from seven institutions in six states will conduct these space biology investigations. Five of these awards are to investigators new to the Space Biology Program within BPS. When fully implemented, about $1.7 million will be awarded in fiscal years 2023-2026.

John Baker, Ph.D. Medical College of Wisconsin, Inc.,
Determining the Impact of Space Radiation and Simulated Microgravity on Plant Root Microbial Community Composition and Function

Colleen Doherty, Ph.D. North Carolina State University,
How Do Carbon Fixing Strategies Affect Nutritional Content Under High CO2? A Comparison of C3 vs. C4 Microgreens

Rebecca Lybrand, Ph.D. University of California, Davis,
Growing Food on Mars: Determining the Impact of Radiation, Atmospheric Composition, and Rock Substrate on Plant Growth in a Space Rock Garden Experiment

Kennda Lynch, Ph.D. Universities Space Research Association,
Plant Trek: Investigating Strategies for Regolith Pre-Conditioning to Support the Establishment of Plant-Microbe Systems in Martian Habitats

Qingwu Meng, Ph.D. University of Delaware,
Temporal Lighting Optimization to Improve Lettuce Productivity and Nutritional Quality Under Superelevated CO2 Stress

Dorothy Shippen, Ph.D. Texas A&M AgriLife Research,
Telomere Dynamics and Oxidative Stress in Arabidopsis in the Space Radiation Environment

Shawana Tabassum, Ph.D. University of Texas,
Leaf Sensor Network for In Situ and Multiparametric Analysis of Crop Stressors