UF Space Plants Lab

University of Florida plant molecular biologists Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul lead a team focused on growing plants in space environments. Join them as they study plants currently on the International Space Station.

Environmental changes almost always lead to changes in gene regulation. We use genetic engineering to design plants in which the adaptation response to a specific kind of stress is visible to the investigator. Our goal is to use this technology to try to answer important questions about the effects of space flight on plant biology.

Read about the latest happenings in our blog. Our lab sends Arabidopsis thaliana plants (aka mouse ear cress, thale cress, or just plain “arabidopsis”) into space aboard the International Space Station to learn how biology reacts in microgravity. Astronauts aboard the Space Station take both macroscopic and microscope images of the plants as they grow, while the lab members on Earth monitor the experiments. At the end of the flight, the plants are fixed in a solution that preserves their on-orbit metabolic state. After the plants return to Earth, the lab members perform genetic expression testing and other standard techniques to determine how the plants responded to their time in the spaceflight environment.

While lab members don’t actually get to go to space themselves, they do get to fly in zero gravity with their experiments. These trips, in airplanes that make up-and-down U-shaped flights called parabolas, let the researchers and their plants “go weightless” for 20 to 25 seconds at a time.