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Saturday, August 6, 2005

Researchers Try to Ease Stress on Martian Plants

Pyrococcus furiosus.
Pyrococcus furiosus.
Credit: Henry Aldrich, University of Florida/NASA
Humans deal with stress in a variety of ways. Some stress can be beneficial, provoking responses to eliminate dangers and achieve goals. Prolonged stress can be severely harmful, and can even cause death.

Plants have the same problems. When they experience stress, they release O2-, or superoxide, which acts to make the rest of the plant more resistant to new threats - and slow down or stop ordinary processes as the plant copes with the danger.

On Mars, plants that humans would bring, whether to use for survival or to aid in terraforming, are most likely going to be under severe, prolonged stress. Under these conditions, plants would have stunted growth and might even fail entirely. So now NASA researchers are trying to stop this stress response.

Using genes from Pyrococcus furiosis, a microbe that lives in ocean vents, the researchers hope to augment plants' natural mechanisms to eliminate superoxide, and at the same time get around plant mechanisms to slow detoxification.

If successful, we can expect faster-growing plants that might stand a chance on Mars. However, this modification will most likely come with some adverse effects, such as making the plants more vulnerable to certain threats. Only time will tell.

(More info: NASA)

- posted by Brian @ 19:59 EST