Plants and Somatic Embryos in Space: What Have We Learned?

Abe D Krikorian


Space provides a unique environment that can affect the interplay between cell cycle controls and environment and can thus modify the processes of cell division, development and growth. It is proposed that the chromosomal and nuclear abnormalities frequently encountered in cells of various plants exposed to space are due to a combination of factors including the biological status of the systems and the way in which they are grown, exposed to, and ultimately, the way in which they experience multiple stresses. The extent to which space-specific changes become manifest is dependent on the extent of preexisting stresses in the system. This has become evident in a variety of plant species grown in space but has been particularly amenable to study using in vitro systems, especially in developing embryoids. The following observations allow us to harmonize disparate results from a variety of space experiments:- (a) the more completely developed a system, the less likely it is to show cell stress during growth; the less morphologically complex, the greater the vulnerability; (b) the size/"packaging" of the genome (karyotype) are significant experimental variables; plants with larger genomes (e.g. polyploids) seem to be more space-stress tolerant; (c) a single space-associated stress is inadequate to produce a significant adverse response unless the stress is severe, or a biological parameter necessary to 'amplify' it exists. On this view, an appropriate "stress match" with other non-equilibrium determinants, much like a 'tug of war', can result in genomic variations in space. All this emphasizes that fastidiously-controlled growing environments must be devised if one is to resolve the matter of direct versus indirect effects of space. Better understanding of the novel physico-chemical equilibrium phenomena associated with space will allow those interested in space cell and developmental biology to pick and choose procedures best suited to their exploitation for specific objectives.

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