During the space journey to be held in the 100th anniversary of the Republic, the space traveler will perform 13 different experiments prepared by universities and research institutions.
One of the experiments determined by the Turkish Space Agency (TUA) and TÜBİTAK Space Technologies Research Institute will be the study titled “Investigation of CRISPR Gene Editing Efficiency in Plants Under Microgravity”.
The project aims to investigate the effectiveness of the CRISPR technique, one of the modern gene editing techniques of molecular biology, on plants in a microgravity environment, and to test whether gene transfer and genetic manipulation can be done in space.
Yıldız Technical University Faculty of Science and Letters, Molecular Biology and Genetics Department PhD student Tuğçe Celayir is the director of the project, which includes Şenay Vural Korkut, undergraduate student from the same department, Sıla Yigit, and Ruha Uslu, one of the founders of the Mars on Earth Project (MoEP). .
In the next phase of the project, which started laboratory studies in March this year, experiments in a gravity-free environment will be carried out with the first Turkish space traveler.
Explaining the details of the project, Celayir said that within the scope of the project, they investigated the genetic intervention on plants in space conditions and the efficiency of this intervention.
Celayir said that their priority is to analyze the experiments on the space platform at the molecular level, to prepare all the materials to be sent within the scope of the project and to perform the optimizations. “In our project, we are focusing on making an analysis for the first time, which will support future studies to improve health with the genetic intervention we will make on plants. Can this analysis be done in microgravity? Can this application be done? We are actually looking for answers to these questions” said.
“Plants can be used to provide an oxygen source in an artificial ecosystem”
Emphasizing that the model organism they used in the project was the plant “Arabidopsis thaliana” and that they chose this plant because of its extensive use and short germination period, Celayir stated that the genetic intervention they planned on the plant had never been done before, and that the research would be groundbreaking in this respect.
Celayir continued his words as follows:
“After this study, plants that can be a food source in the future can also be used to create an artificial ecosystem and to provide an oxygen source within this ecosystem. Today, when the Mars colonies of the future are talked about, we need to work for the health of these plants in the ecosystem to be created and to create an ecosystem that will support astronauts, especially in long-term space missions. “The biggest problem we face in long-term space missions is microgravity environment and high-dose radiation exposure. Just as this negatively affects astronauts, it also affects all living things on spacecraft. We need to establish an artificial ecosystem in order to sustain life in such long-term space missions.” “Plants play a key role in this ecosystem because they can produce oxygen through photosynthesis and can be used as a food source. That’s why the health of plants is of great importance in long-term space missions.”
Gravity perception by plants
Noting that plants perceive gravity as well as all environmental factors, Celayir said, “When we look at other studies done so far in microgravity, plant roots show differences and tend to grow by scattering in different directions. We also see that special media are used instead of soil cultures in space experiments. In ours, too, our plants grow on special media, in a way, in petri dishes.” he said.
Celayir, “The launch date is not certain yet, but it is planned to take place in the last quarter of 2023. Our analyzes will continue and our project will be completed in the samples that are returned to the world later on.” said.