A couple of researchers are looking to understand how space travel can affect the biological processes of plants. According to the researchers, the findings of this study could also shed light on the effects of long-term spaceflights on humans due to their biological similarities with the leafy living organisms

For the study, researchers from the University of Florida launched their plants to suborbital space through Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. The plants were launched as part of a payload under NASA's Flight Opportunities program.

Plants
Photo of rain drops on leaves. Pixabay

Studying Plants In Space

Since the New Shepard is currently on a suborbital trip in space, the planets have been taken beyond low-Earth orbit. According to the researchers, this will expose the plants to microgravity conditions as well as gravitational transitions. They speculated that these conditions will have an effect on calcium signaling, which is a natural response to external stimuli that occurs on a cellular level.

"Our very first spaceflight experiment indicated that being in space changes some aspects of calcium signaling," researcher Robert Ferl said in a statement. "And calcium signaling in particular is very similar between plants and animals, so we want to better understand that role in response to transitions in gravity."

astronaut exercise
This picture shows NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, performs a cardiopulmonary exercise test while using the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station to assess cardiorespiratory fitness. NASA

Similarities Between Plants And Humans

The researchers are hoping that they'll be able to analyze the biological changes that plants will go through after a trip to suborbital space. They noted that a study regarding these changes can also be applied to humans and how they will be affected missions to outer space. According to the researchers, since humans and plants share many genetic traits, a study regarding the effects of space travel on flora could provide valuable insight as to how suborbital flights would biologically affect astronauts.

"About half of the genes in our bodies encode the exact same proteins in plants," researcher Anna-Lisa Paul explained. "And that's very exciting because it means that as we look at how plants behave in the absence of gravity, we can translate many of those basic biological processes to humans."