The microgravity environment encountered during space-flight has long been considered to affect plant growth and developmental processes, including cell wall biopolymer composition and content. As a prelude to studying how microgravity is perceived - and acted upon - by plants, it was first instructive to investigate what gross effects on plant growth and development occurred in microgravity. Thus, wheat seedlings were exposed to microgravity on board the space shuttle Discovery (STS-51) for a 10 day duration, and these specimens were compared with their counterparts grown on Earth under the same conditions (e.g. controls). First, the primary roots of the wheat that developed under both microgravity and 1 g on Earth were examined to assess the role of gravity on cellulose microfibril (CMF) organization and secondary wall thickening patterns. Using a quick freeze/deep etch technique, this revealed that the cell wall CMFs of the space-grown wheat maintained the same organization as their 1 g-grown counterparts. That is, in all instances, CMFs were randomly interwoven with each other in the outermost layers (farthest removed from the plasma membrane), and parallel to each other within the individual strata immediately adjacent to the plasma membranes. The CMF angle in the innermost stratum relative to the immediately adjacent stratum was ca 80 degrees in both the space and Earth-grown plants. Second, all plants grown in microgravity had roots that grew downwards into the agar; they did not display "wandering" and upward growth as previously reported by others. Third, the space-grown wheat also developed normal protoxylem and metaxylem vessel elements with secondary thickening patterns ranging from spiral to regular pit to reticulate thickenings. Fourthly, both the space- and Earth-grown plants were essentially of the same size and height, and their lignin analyses revealed no substantial differences in their amounts and composition regardless of the gravitational field experienced, i.e. for the purposes of this study, all plants were essentially identical. These results suggest that the microgravity environment itself at best only slightly affected either cell wall biopolymer synthesis or the deposition of CMFs, in contrast to previous assertions.
Life Sciences (General)
Phytochemistry (ISSN 0031-9422); Volume 57; 6; 835-46