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Prof to send more seeds into space

10/05/2000

John Z. Kiss, professor of botany, is the principal investigator on a new project to study plant development on the International Space Station (ISS). Richard E. Edelmann, supervisor of Miami’s electron microscope facility, and Roger P. Hangarter of Indiana University are co-investigators. The three-year NASA grant is estimated at $460,000.

The project was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through an international peer review process completed earlier this year. The actual spaceflight is a few years away as the ISS and the laboratory facilities to be housed in the station are still under construction. Until then, Kiss and his team will conduct ground-based experiments and begin spaceflight hardware development.

Kiss and Edelmann had plant experiments conducted successfully aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis during two flights in 1997. The goal of the current research is to better understand how plants integrate sensory input from multiple light and gravity perception systems. The long-range goals are related to developing better crop plants on earth and to determining plants’ potential use as a food source during prolonged human time in space.

They will again use Arabidopsis, a small plant in the mustard family, that is currently the focus of an international gene sequencing project analogous to the human genome project.

In September Kiss traveled to NASA Ames Research Center in California and presented a seminar on his research to scientists, engineers and program managers. Last week NASA personnel visited Kiss’ laboratory in Pearson Hall.

Most of the preliminary data used in the successful grant proposal to NASA was related to work done by senior Nicholas Ruppel. Ruppel, of Wadsworth, Ohio, has been doing independent research in Kiss’ laboratory and has participated in both the Summer Scholar Program and the Hughes Internship Program at Miami. Oct. 25-28 he will attend the annual meeting of the American Society of Gravitational and Space Biology in Montreal to present his most recent findings.

"Students’ involvement in independent research can be the most important educational experience in their undergraduate careers," says Kiss.

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