A novel device to study altered gravity and light interactions in seedling tropisms

Giovanna Aronne, Lucius Wilhelminus Franciscus Muthert, Luigi Gennaro Izzo*, Leone Ermes Romano, Maurizio Iovane, Fiore Capozzi, Aránzazu Manzano, Malgorzata Ciska, Raúl Herranz, F. Javier Medina, John Z. Kiss, Jack J. W. A. van Loon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Long-duration space missions will need to rely on the use of plants in bio-regenerative life support systems (BLSSs) because these systems can produce fresh food and oxygen, reduce carbon dioxide levels, recycle metabolic waste, and purify water. In this scenario, the need for new experiments on the effects of altered gravity conditions on plant biological processes is increasing, and significant efforts should be devoted to new ideas aimed at increasing the scientific output and lowering the experimental costs. Here, we report the design of an easy-to-produce and inexpensive device conceived to analyze the effect of interaction between gravity and light on root tropisms. Each unit consisted of a polystyrene multi-slot rack with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), capable of holding Petri dishes and assembled with a particular filter-paper folding. The device was successfully used for the ROOTROPS (for root tropisms) experiment performed in the Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) and Random Positioning Machine (RPM) at ESA's European Space Research and Technology centre (ESTEC). During the experiments, four light treatments and six gravity conditions were factorially combined to study their effects on root orientation of Brassica oleracea seedlings. Light treatments (red, blue, and white) and a dark condition were tested under four hypergravity levels (20 g, 15 g, 10 g, 5 g), a 1 g control, and a simulated microgravity (RPM) condition. Results of validation tests showed that after 24 h, the assembled system remained unaltered, no slipping or displacement of seedlings occurred at any hypergravity treatment or on the RPM, and seedlings exhibited robust growth. Overall, the device was effective and reliable in achieving scientific goals, suggesting that it can be used for ground-based research on phototropism-gravitropism interactions. Moreover, the concepts developed can be further expanded for use in future spaceflight experiments with plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-16
Number of pages9
JournalLife Sciences in Space Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

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