Plant Biotech: To Help Grow Food in Space, Ancient 'Magic' Plant Discovered.
A team of Australian scientists will open the door for space-based food production, especially during deeper human missions, including to Mars by discovering a gene in a "magical" plant. The findings also have implications for future genetic research on Earth.
At the Queensland University of Technology, Professor Peter Waterhouse who is a plant geneticist, discovered the gene in the ancient Australian native tobacco plant Nicotiana benthamiana. It is known as Pitjuri to indigenous Aboriginal tribes.
Professor Peter Waterhouse made the discovery while tracing the history of the Pitjuri plant which, for decades, has been used by geneticists as a model plant upon which to test viruses and vaccines.He said in a university statement "This plant is the 'laboratory rat' of the molecular plant world. We think of it as a magical plant with amazing properties."
He explained "By sequencing its genome and looking through historical records, we have been able to determine that the original plant came from the Granites area near the Western Australia and Northern Territory border, close to where 'Wolf Creek' was filmed." By using a molecular clock and fossil records, the team found that this particular plant has survived in its current form in the wild for around 750,000 years.
Lead researcher Julia Bally added "What we found may have a big impact on future plant biotechnology research. We have discovered that it is the plant equivalent of the nude mouse used in medical research. Its focus is on creating small flowers but large seeds and on getting these seeds back into the soil in time for the next rain." The plant has lost its "immune system" and has done that to focus its energies on being able to germinate and grow quickly, rapidly flower, and set seed after even a small amount of rainfall.
Scientists could use this discovery to investigate other niche or sterile growing environments where plants were protected from disease and space was an intriguing option.Professor Waterhouse informed "The recent film "The Martian" which involved an astronaut stranded on Mars growing potatoes while living in an artificial habitat, had a bit more science fact than fiction than people might think."