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Figuring Out How Plants Grow in Space is Vital for Future Missions





This is an Arabidopsis thaliana, the plant species used in this study. (Credit: Eric Belfield)

This is Arabidopsis thaliana, the plant species grown aboard the International Space Station and analyzed in this study. This work could support future efforts to grow food in space. (Credit: Eric Belfield)

Space Plants

Will future astronauts be able to snack on fresh space-grown produce? New research is advancing the study of plant growth in space, which may one day support humans living and growing their own food in space or on the surface of Mars.

Researchers at the University of Florida Space Plants Lab are analyzing tissue taken from plants that have spent their entire lives growing in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station. It’s revealing that plants can indeed grow off-world, but they face unique challenges that researchers are only now beginning to comprehend.

The team looked at which genes were being expressed in the plants at any given time by looking at what’s called the transcriptome — the RNA sequences, or genetic messengers, that are being made — and compared that to samples grown on Earth.

As corresponding author and principal investigator Anna-Lisa Paul said in an email, gene expression “provides an excellent readout of how the plant is responding to its environment. In a way, you can think of it as seeing the list of “tools” the plant is using to cope with the novel situation of spaceflight.”

Studying Plant “Brains”

In this study, published in the journal Applications in Plant Sciences, the team analyzed samples from the plant Arabidopsis thaliana (rockcress), a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. They specifically studied the root apex, or tip.

“The very root tip acts a bit like a “brain” to help sense changes in the environment, and then send the signaling molecules to the right places to initiate changes that help get root growth back on track,” Paul said. “So, what if you have no gravity to help with that signal transduction? The root tip still acts as the central processing node in the root, and we can get insight into how the plant navigates in an environment without gravity to guide it by looking at the root tip transcriptome.”

There is still much to learn about plant growth in microgravity, but this study has helped identify some differences between plants grown in space and on Earth.

“We see many genes differentially expressed in spaceflight that are associated with cell wall remodeling and cell expansion. Plants also respond as if they are being challenged by certain stresses, even though the spaceflight environment does not really look as if it should be ‘stressful,’” Paul said. “Taken all together, it tells us that plants know they are in a strange environment, and although they can survive there, they need to work hard.”

Produce on Mars

This work and the study of plant growth in space will be important for future crewed missions to the space station, the moon and one day Mars. “We need to know how plants tick in a zero gravity environment, or any altered gravity environment, before we can be confident they will thrive on a mission to Mars,” Paul said.

While this study only explores how plant growth is affected by the space station’s microgravity, it also shows how plants might respond to altered gravity in general. Additionally, Paul suggests, understanding how to grow plants in the controlled, resource-limited environment on the space station could inform future efforts to grow plants in a contained environment on an alien planet.

Astronauts who travel to space currently do not have access to truly fresh produce. But, they are only aboard the space station for a relatively short period of time, get resupplied regularly and space agencies make a concerted effort to provide enjoyable food. Because of this, astronauts today have access to adequate meals and face no risk of running out of food. But this might change for astronauts aboard future crewed missions to the moon or on deep-space missions to Mars. Especially on Mars, the ability to grow food will be critical for astronauts who, otherwise, would have a finite food supply. The ability to grow produce on Mars would ensure sustainability for a mission and a healthy diet for crew members.


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Globe Climate: Canada’s resource reckoning is coming





Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.

This afternoon, the Alberta government announced that it is restoring a coal mining policy it revoked last spring. At the time, the move provoked a widespread public backlash detailed by The Globe. The original decision, which opened up more than 1.4 million hectares to exploration, was made without public consultation. Premier Jason Kenney previously defended the changes.

Lots more on coal and Canada’s resources industry in this week’s newsletter edition.

Now, let’s catch you up on other news.

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‘Incredibly destructive’: Canada’s Prairies to see devastating impact of climate change





As the climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, experts warn if dramatic steps to mitigate global warming are not taken, the effects in Canada’s Prairie region will be devastating to the country’s agriculture sector.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. recently found 2020 was earth’s second-hottest year on record, with the average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe at 0.98 of a degree C above the 20th-century average.

However, the agency found the northern hemisphere saw its hottest year on record, at 1.28 degrees C above the average.

“(In Canada) we are looking at about 6.4C degrees of warming this century, which isn’t much less than one degree per decade, which is just a terrifying rate of warming,” Darrin Qualman, the director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmer’s Union said.

Qualman said there is “massive change coming” to Canada’s Prairies, which will be “incredibly destructive.”

“It’s not going too far to say that if we made that happen, parts of the Prairies wouldn’t be farmable anymore,” he said.

According to the federal government, in 2018 Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system generated $143 billion, accounting for 7.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The sector employed 2.3 million people in 2018. The majority of the 64.2 million hectares of farmland in Canada is concentrated in the Prairies and in southern Ontario.

The effects of climate change are already being felt on the ground in the Prairies, Qualman said, adding that the NFU has already heard from farmers complaining of “challenging weather.”

“People are sharing pictures of flattened crops and buildings, et cetera, that have been damaged,” he said. “And we’re still at the beginning of this.”

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Insect-based dog food aims to cut your pet’s carbon pawprint





Meat has an enormous carbon footprint, with livestock liable for about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions, as we have beforehand mentioned on this e-newsletter. That is prompted specialists to suggest consuming much less meat for sustainability (and well being) causes.

However what about your pet? One research discovered that the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by canine and cat meals within the U.S. alone had been equal to about 64 million tonnes of CO2, or roughly the quantity produced by 13.6 million automobiles. And it might be getting worse, with a development towards feeding pets “human-grade” meat.

That is prompted some pet meals makers to look to lower-carbon protein sources — together with bugs.

Research present that producing insect-based meals requires far much less feed, land and water and generates far fewer greenhouse fuel emissions per kilogram than meats comparable to beef, pork or rooster.

That is one of many causes increasingly more pet meals containing insect protein are hitting the market. Purina, a model owned by multinational Nestlé, launched a line of canine and cat meals containing black soldier fly larvae in Switzerland in November.

In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier began promoting canine treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and pet food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to broaden to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this yr and cat meals in 2022 due to “a ton of demand,” mentioned firm co-founder Philippe Poirier.

Wilder Harrier initially labored with animal nutritionists on insect-based merchandise to unravel a unique downside — specifically, the founders’ canines had allergy symptoms to frequent meats utilized in canine meals. Poirier mentioned now about half its prospects hunt down the product due to their pets’ allergy symptoms and about half for environmental causes.

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a U.S.-based veterinary nutritionist licensed by the American School of Veterinary Vitamin, has written concerning the environmental influence of pet meals. She mentioned we’re typically “not as involved as we probably ought to [be]” concerning the environmental footprint of pets.

Alternatively, she famous that the longer-term influence of newer diets, comparable to vegan meals and people containing bugs, hasn’t been nicely examined in comparison with conventional pet meals.

Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor of animal sciences on the College of Illinois who research novel proteins for pet meals (together with bugs, yeast and plant-based substances), mentioned such substances are rigorously examined to find out their security and diet earlier than being added to pet meals. 

“This can be a very extremely regulated trade,” she mentioned, however admitted it is also evolving.

Relating to bugs, she mentioned constructive information “reveals promise in direction of utilizing them increasingly more in pet meals.” Insect-based proteins have additionally earned the endorsement of the British Veterinary Affiliation, which says some insect-based meals could also be higher for pets than prime steak.

However Godoy famous that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution, and pet homeowners ought to take into consideration the wants of their very own particular person pet and analysis whether or not a specific weight loss plan can be appropriate.

She mentioned that other than the kind of protein, issues like packaging and manufacturing strategies may also make a distinction. For instance, utilizing meat byproducts that may in any other case turn into waste would not drive elevated meat manufacturing the identical approach as utilizing human-grade meat.

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