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J Biotechnol. 1996 Jun 27;47(2-3):155-65.

Dynamics of root growth in microgravity.

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Department of Physics, University of Trondheim, Dragvoll, Norway.


An experiment to study the growth of garden cress roots in microgravity is described. The experiment, denoted RANDOM, was an ESA Biorack experiment in the IML-2 flight in July 1994. In the absence of gravity, it can be anticipated that the roots would show random growth, changing their direction randomly. The hypothesis that such random growth movements occur according to random walk theory, leads to predictions as to the detailed manner in which deviations increase with time. The experiment was designed to test this random walk hypothesis. The paper concentrates on the technological aspects of studying the roots in microgravity. The development of suitable plant chambers, fitting containers developed by ESA, is described as well as the techniques used to grow the seeds between agar slices. hardware was developed to record photographically root movements between the agar slices. Photos were taken once per hour. Some plant chambers were designed to allow fixation of plant material in space. The practical solutions found using glutaraldehyde for prefixation in the Spacelab, within the restrictions given, are described. The experimental results show that the growth pattern in fact followed the prediction from the random walk approach. The average changes in the growth direction stayed constant and equal to zero during the experiment while the squared angular deviations increased proportional to time. Furthermore, plant material prefixed in orbit was permanently fixed after the flight. Light microscopy and electron microscopy pictures are shown as examples of the results achieved. The long prefixation period meant a drawback for the quality of the fixation process. However, sections suitable for study were achieved. The main goals of the RANDOM experiment were therefore achieved.

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