How Zero-Gravity Affects Plant DNA Methylation Patterns

Jim Crocker
2nd May, 2024

How Zero-Gravity Affects Plant DNA Methylation Patterns

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In space, Arabidopsis plants showed changes in DNA methylation, which affects gene activity and stress response
  • A mutant Arabidopsis with a disrupted epigenetic gene had more pronounced methylation changes, struggling more in space
  • These findings suggest that controlling plant epigenetics is key for adapting them to space environments
Understanding how plants grow in the unique environment of space is crucial for future long-term space exploration and potential extraterrestrial agriculture. Researchers at the University of Florida have taken a significant step in this direction with the Advanced Plant Experiment-04 - Epigenetic Expression (APEX-04-EpEx) experiment[1]. This study builds upon previous research that explored the growth patterns of Arabidopsis thaliana, a model organism for plant biology, in space [2,4]. Arabidopsis plants have been grown on the International Space Station (ISS) before, revealing that in the absence of gravity, roots still tend to grow away from light, a phenomenon known as negative phototropism[2]. Additionally, spaceflight conditions were found to affect the plant's growth rate and overall size. These findings suggested that gravity-independent factors influence plant growth in space. DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification where a methyl group is added to DNA, plays a critical role in regulating gene expression and maintaining genome stability[3]. In plants, methylation changes can affect how they develop and respond to stress, including the unique stresses encountered in space. The APEX-04-EpEx experiment aimed to understand how spaceflight alters the DNA methylation patterns of Arabidopsis and how these changes affect the plant's ability to adapt to space conditions. The University of Florida team used whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS), a method that can detect DNA methylation across the entire genome, to compare the methylation patterns of wild-type Arabidopsis and a mutant line, elp2-5, which lacks a key epigenetic regulatory gene. The elp2-5 mutant previously showed impaired growth and development in space, suggesting that epigenetic regulation is crucial for spaceflight adaptation[4]. The WGBS analysis revealed that spaceflight leads to specific changes in DNA methylation in both the wild-type and mutant Arabidopsis plants. However, the elp2-5 mutant displayed more pronounced alterations, reflecting its difficulty in coping with space conditions. These methylation changes were found in regions of the genome associated with genes involved in stress responses and could explain the altered growth and development patterns observed in previous experiments [2,4]. This study is significant because it shows that spaceflight can cause specific epigenetic changes in plants. It also highlights the importance of epigenetic regulation for plant adaptation to spaceflight, which could be vital for growing plants on long space missions or other planets. The ability to pinpoint these changes at the single-molecule level will be crucial for understanding how plants can be engineered or selected for optimal growth in space. The research from the University of Florida not only adds to our knowledge of plant biology in space but also underscores the potential for using plants as a sustainable life support system for astronauts. By understanding and manipulating the epigenetic mechanisms that control plant stress responses, scientists can enhance the resilience of crops grown in the challenging conditions of space. In conclusion, the APEX-04-EpEx experiment has provided valuable insights into the epigenetic changes that occur in plants during spaceflight. These findings pave the way for further research into how plants can be adapted for growth beyond Earth, a critical step for the future of space exploration and the possibility of establishing human colonies in space.

GeneticsBiochemPlant Science


Main Study

1) Single-molecule long-read methylation profiling reveals regional DNA methylation regulated by Elongator Complex Subunit 2 in Arabidopsis roots experiencing spaceflight

Published 30th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Plant growth strategies are remodeled by spaceflight.

3) Dynamics and function of DNA methylation in plants.

4) Epigenomic Regulators Elongator Complex Subunit 2 and Methyltransferase 1 Differentially Condition the Spaceflight Response in Arabidopsis.

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