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MIAMI BOTANIST SENDS SEEDS INTO SPACE

12/03/1996

OXFORD, Ohio -- Experiments on two NASA shuttles will help a Miami University botanist determine how plants grow in space as well as how plants detect gravity on Earth.

John Kiss, assistant professor of botany at Miami University, is sending up samples of Arabidopsis , a weed of the mustard family, in the Atlantis shuttle January 12 and again in May.

The experiments will help determine how plants respond to microgravity (one-millionth the gravity we feel on earth) and their potential use as a food source during prolonged human time in space. The plants' ability to produce oxygen also will be studied.

In addition, Kiss is investigating a hypothesis for plant gravity perception that has been debated among botanists for the past century.

The experiments in space will help make arguments for or against the hypothesis that the statolith--dense, starch-filled particles in plant cells--are the cellular structures in which gravity is perceived by plants.

In Kiss' lab at Miami, undergraduates and graduate researchers helped collect the data that secured the $230,000 three-year grant from NASA.

Kiss has met with the mission specialists to explain his work, and with other researchers, through the European Space Agency, who have flown work on previous shuttle missions.

While the experiments are being performed in space, Kiss will be at Kennedy Space Center in a mini-lab specially prepared for him.

Aboard Atlantis, the seedlings will be chemically preserved in microgravity when they are 3-4-day old. Then, after the shuttle lands, Kiss will bring the seedlings back to Miami where they'll be processed for analysis.

Kiss, who has taught at Miami since 1993, has studied the effect of gravity on plant growth since 1987.

(Kiss can be reached Dec. 26-Jan. 3 at (513) 529-5428. He goes to Kennedy Space Center Jan. 6. )

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