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NC State researchers redesign life for Mars and beyond

Researchers at North Carolina State University are looking deep under water for clues on how to redesign plants for life deep in outer space.

Some of the stresses inherent with travel and life in space - extreme temperatures,drought, radiation and gravity, for example - are not easily remedied with traditional plant defenses.

So Dr. Wendy Boss, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Botany, and Dr.Amy Grunden, assistant professor of microbiology, have combined their expertise to transfer beneficial characteristics from a sea-dwelling, single-celled organism called Pyrococcus furiosus into model plants like tobacco and Arabidopsis, or mustard weed.

P. furiosus is one of Earth's earliest life forms, a microbe that can survive in extreme temperatures. It grows and dwells in underwater sea volcanoes where temperatures reach more than 100 degrees Celsius, or that of boiling water. Occasionally, the organism is spewed out into near freezing deep-sea water.

The NC State research, funded for two years and $400,000 by the NASA Institute forAdvanced Concepts, entails extracting a gene - called superoxide reductase - from P. furiosus and expressing it in plants. That gene, one of nature's best antioxidants, reduces superoxide, which in plants is a chemical signal given off when stressful conditions are encountered. This signal essentially puts the plant on alert, but staying on alert too long can be harmful: If not reduced quickly, the toxic superoxide will kill plant cells.Since the superoxide reductase gene is not found in plants, Boss, an expert in plant metabolism and plant responses to stimuli, and Grunden, an expert in organisms that grow in extreme environments, wanted to use this genetic manipulation as a test run to gauge the feasibility of inserting a gene from an extremophile - an organism that survives, and thrives, inextreme environments - into a plant, and then seeing whether the gene would function the wayit does in its o
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Source:North Carolina State University


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