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Symbiotic Nodulation

Symbiotic Nodulation

SyNRGE3 (Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment-Cubed) investigates the effect of microgravity on the cell-to-cell signaling and nodule formation between a host plant and symbiotic bacteria.

Customer: Limerick Institute of Technology
Research: Symbiotic Nodulation in Microgravity
NanoRacks Facility: NanoLab Platform
Mission Duration: 09/2014 – 03/2013
Mission Status: In Progress
More Info: From NASA website

Research Overview
On Earth, some plants develop a symbiotic relationship with bacteria: the bacteria live on nodules forming along plant roots, and they provide the plant with nitrogen. Microgravity affects plants and animals down to the cellular level, so it affects this relationship.

Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment-Cubed (NanoRacks-SyNRGE3) investigates the effect of microgravity on the cell-to-cell signaling and nodule formation between a host plant and symbiotic bacteria.

  • Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment-Cubed (NanoRacks–SyNRGE3) is designed to directly test the hypothesis that the ability of Sinorhizobium meliloti to induce the process of nitrogen fixation is increased in microgravity.
  • Biological nitrogen fixation is responsible for producing approximately 20% of the protein consumed in the human diet, and is the primary source of nitrogen fertilization in much of the developing world. An understanding of this process, and the ability to incorporate and/or induce nodulation and nitrogen fixation in non-legumes, has a significant potential for economic develop.
  • Incorporating a legume as a forage crop or red clover as part of a crop rotation cycle results in a biological fertilization of fields, with subsequent reduction in chemical fertilizer use, improved weed control, and increased fields.

The SyNRGE3 experiment explores a mutually beneficial relationship, or symbiosis, between plants and bacteria that enable plants to thrive in nutrient poor environments without need for chemical fertilizers to supplement soil nitrogen. On Earth, the symbiosis between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and plants known as legumes accounts for approximately 20% of global biological nitrogen fixed annually.

Legumes including soybeans, peas, and beans are a major food source for humans, and other legumes like alfalfa, clover, and vetch are important foods for livestock. In space, the NanoRacks-SyNRGE3 experiment investigates the effects of microgravity on plant root and shoot growth in nutrient-poor media and the formation of nitrogen‐fixing nodules by bacteria on the plant roots.

SyNRGE3 is a follow-on experiment to the NASA BRIC-SyNRGE study flown on the STS‐135 Space Shuttle mission in July 2011 that demonstrated the symbiosis between etiolated plants (i.e., plants grown without light) and bacteria was negatively affected by microgravity. The experiment uses the model legume species Medicago truncatula (M. truncatula) (i.e., barrel medic) and the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti (S. meliloti) to determine the genetic maintenance of communication and reciprocity within a microbiome to further investigate the events associated with the effect of microgravity on biological nitrogen fixation in M. truncatula.

The experiment tests the hypothesis that the rate of infection of M. truncatula L. cv. Jemalong A17 (Enod11::gus) by its symbionts S. meliloti ABS7 and 1021 is less in microgravity than in normal gravity on Earth. NanoRacks-SyNRGE3 modifies protocols developed for the STS-135 experiment using the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware for use in 1.5U NanoLab flight hardware developed by NanoRacks for the experiment.

Unlike the previous flight experiment, the NanoLab plant chamber has solid-state lighting to support plant growth and high-resolution imaging capability to observe nodule formation in real time.

The investigation provides new insight into an important symbiotic relationship between plants and bacteria. Understanding this system can improve crop yields and reduce nitrogen use, safeguarding bodies of water and reducing agricultural waste.

Read more on the NASA website or at Limerick Institute of Technology.

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