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Astrobiology. 2011 Oct;11(8):743-58. doi: 10.1089/ast.2011.0659. Epub 2011 Oct 4.

Parabolic flight induces changes in gene expression patterns in Arabidopsis thaliana.

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  • 1Horticultural Sciences and Genetics Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, USA.


Our primary objective was to evaluate gene expression changes in Arabidopsis thaliana in response to parabolic flight as part of a comprehensive approach to the molecular biology of spaceflight-related adaptations. In addition, we wished to establish parabolic flight as a tractable operations platform for molecular biology studies. In a succession of experiments on NASA's KC-135 and C-9 parabolic aircraft, Arabidopsis plants were presented with replicated exposure to parabolic flight. Transcriptome profiling revealed that parabolic flight caused changes in gene expression patterns that stood the statistical tests of replication on three different flight days. The earliest response, after 20 parabolas, was characterized by a prominence of genes associated with signal transduction. After 40 parabolas, this prominence was largely replaced by genes associated with biotic and abiotic stimuli and stress. Among these responses, three metabolic processes stand out in particular: the induction of auxin metabolism and signaling, the differential expression of genes associated with calcium-mediated signaling, and the repression of genes associated with disease resistance and cell wall biochemistry. Many, but not all, of these responses are known to be involved in gravity sensing in plants. Changes in auxin-related gene expression were also recorded by reporter genes tuned to auxin signal pathways. These data demonstrate that the parabolic flight environment is appropriate for molecular biology research involving the transition to microgravity, in that with replication, proper controls, and analyses, gene expression changes can be observed in the time frames of typical parabolic flight experiments.

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