Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Designer Plants On Mars

Date:
May 24, 2005
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
Take the cold tolerance of bacteria that thrive in arctic ice, add the ultraviolet resistance of tomato plants growing high in the Andes mountains, and combine with an ordinary plant. What do you get? A tough plant "pioneer" that can grow in Martian soil.

Plant seedlings that have been transformed with the "superoxide reductase" gene. Not all seedlings take up the new gene, so the seedlings are placed on material that only allows the transformed plants to grow (large green seedling in the middle of the left image). In the image on the right, the transformed seedling glows because the product of the new gene (a protein) has been tagged with a molecule from a species of jellyfish that glows when exposed to special light. Researchers use this procedure to determine where the new gene is functioning in the transformed plant.
Credit: Image credit: North Carolina State University

Take the cold tolerance of bacteria that thrive in arctic ice, add the ultraviolet resistance of tomato plants growing high in the Andes mountains, and combine with an ordinary plant. What do you get? A tough plant "pioneer" that can grow in Martian soil.

Like customizing a car, NASA-funded scientists are designing plants that can survive the harsh conditions on Mars. These plants could provide oxygen, fresh food, and even medicine to astronauts while living off their waste. They would also improve morale as a lush, green connection to Earth in a barren and alien world.

The research is being sponsored by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), which investigates revolutionary ideas that could greatly advance NASA's missions in the future. The proposals push the limits of known science and technology, and thus are not expected to be realized for at least decade or more.

The plants would probably be housed in a greenhouse on a Martian base, because no known forms of life can survive direct exposure to the Martian surface, with its extremely cold, thin air and sterilizing radiation. Even then, conditions in a Martian greenhouse would be beyond what ordinary plants could stand. During the day, the plants would have to endure high levels of solar ultraviolet radiation, because the thin Martian atmosphere has no ozone to block it like the Earth's atmosphere does. At night, temperatures would drop well below freezing. Also, the Martian soil is poor in the mineral nutrients necessary for plants to thrive.

"Our idea is to enable plants to survive on Mars by adding features from microscopic organisms called extremophiles that live in the most inhospitable environments on Earth," said Dr. Wendy Boss of North Carolina State University. Boss and her colleague, Dr. Amy Grunden, also of North Carolina State, head the research team working on this project.

The team uses the techniques of gene splicing to remove useful genes from extremophiles and add them to plants. (A gene is a molecular instruction that specifies a feature for an organism, such as eye color, height, the ability to digest certain foods or resist toxins, etc.)

The current NIAC funding pays for "proof of concept" work that demonstrates the feasibility of the team's idea and identifies the technical challenges that must be overcome for Martian plants to become a reality.

To prove their concept, the team took a gene from "Pyrococcus furiosus," a microbe that lives in the scalding water issuing from deep sea vents, and inserted it into a tobacco cells. The gene, "superoxide reductase," removes toxic oxygen atoms and molecules that are generated in organisms under stress. The gene was successfully incorporated into the tobacco cells and functioned without harming them.

The team plans to transform plants with genes for cold tolerance as the next step in their research. They also used their NIAC concept as an educational experience, giving undergraduate students at North Carolina State the challenge of selecting features from existing organisms that would be useful for Martian plants and designing ecosystems for Martian greenhouses.

"The features we are incorporating in Martian plants, like cold and drought tolerance, will also help crops bear severe weather here on Earth, so this work has practical application," said Grunden.

"This type of long-term research, with an uncertain path to success, is only possible with an organization like NIAC that doesn't mind taking a chance for the possibility of an incredible breakthrough," added Grunden.

NIAC was created in 1998 to solicit revolutionary concepts from people and organizations outside NASA. The Universities Space Research Association operates NIAC for NASA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Designer Plants On Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 May 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050524000352.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2005, May 24). Designer Plants On Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050524000352.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Designer Plants On Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050524000352.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

AFP (Oct. 17, 2014) Argentina launches a home-built satellite, a first for Latin America. It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into orbit, and will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

This Week @ NASA, October 17, 2014

NASA (Oct. 17, 2014) Power spacewalk, MAVEN’s “First Light”, Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon Might Have A Hidden Ocean

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) The smallest of Saturn's main moons, Mimas, wobbles as it orbits. Research reveals it might be due to a global ocean underneath its icy surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Comet Set for Rare Close Shave With Mars

Comet Set for Rare Close Shave With Mars

AFP (Oct. 16, 2014) A fast-moving comet is about to shave by Mars for a once-in-a-million-years encounter that a flurry of spacecraft around the Red Planet hope to capture and photograph, NASA said. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins