September 9, 2019
Staff Accomplishment

NASA funds PNNL Microbe and Plant Research in Space

Janet Jansson and Christer Jansson awarded two of 15 NASA space biology grants

Photo of Christer Jansson and Janet Jansson

Janet Jansson and Christer Jansson of PNNL have each been awarded a NASA grant to explore how life adapts and changes during spaceflight. These grants, designed to help NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, represent the fortunate convergence of PNNL’s scientific development and NASA’s interest in PNNL’s science.

Janet Jansson’s project focuses on how soil microorganisms coordinate the exchange of metabolites—small molecules that create life-sustaining chemical reactions—within their community in a space environment. Using a consortium of well-defined, naturally interacting soil microbes isolated from PNNL’s field site at Washington State University near Prosser, Washington, she is studying how decreased gravity could make it more or less difficult for the microbes to find each other and if they will operate in their same niches.

For his study, Christer Jansson is examining grasses that take up carbon dioxide (CO2) and convert it to chemical energy via different types of photosynthesis. One grass has an adaptation that allows it to concentrate CO2 in the cells because of its specialized photosynthesis. The other grass, like most vascular plants, lacks this adaptation. He anticipates significant reprogramming of plant metabolism under space-station conditions, due to the high and fluctuating CO2 levels (which will directly affect photosynthesis) and microgravity (which will affect how plants take up water).

The projects consist of parallel experiments: a control group at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and an identical cohort on the International Space Station. Astronauts will perform specific measurements and collect observational data and samples on the space station while researchers on Earth do the same. When the experiments conclude, both sample sets will return to the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) at PNNL for further analysis.

Read more about all 15 NASA grants here.

Published: September 9, 2019

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