Seed bank for outer space

30 Jun, 2009 04:12 AM
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Seeds in space: NASA space station astronaut Gregory Chamitoff holds some wollemi seeds that are still to sprout. Photo: Peter Rae
Seeds in space: NASA space station astronaut Gregory Chamitoff holds some wollemi seeds that are still to sprout. Photo: Peter Rae

THE first Australian native seeds sent into space for a six-month stint on the international space station have returned to sprout into apparently healthy seedlings, bringing the prospect of a space seedbank a step closer.

As well as suggesting the 2500 seeds were unaffected by "space fatigue", the early findings indicate that Australian natives, including our floral emblem, the golden wattle, could be tough enough to be cultivated on a space station or on another planet.

The US, Russia and China have sent vegetable seeds and grains into space, with mixed results.

The collection of vacuum-packed seeds, including the golden wattle, flannel flowers, wollemi pine and waratah, were taken into space in May last year by NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff.

Since returning in November, three species have passed the germination test and are now month-old seedlings at Sydney's Botanic Gardens — despite orbiting Earth once every 90 minutes at a speed of 28,000 km/h and being constantly exposed to micro-gravity and low-level ionising radiation. The wollemi seeds need to be chilled before they germinate, so will be planted in coming weeks.

Dr Chamitoff said the idea was to look at the possibility of taking seeds off the planet, to protect species from disasters or environmental change on Earth.

"We're looking to see if they are still able to germinate and grow properly when they came back to Earth," he said. "And so far it looks good."

He said plant use on potential planet colonies was also being considered.

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READER COMMENTS

downtoearth
1/07/2009 8:58:04 AM

What a bloody wasteful exercise. How long we keep doing such an academic oriented research while we don't know how to survive on this very vast planet?? Let the scientific community think normal and act normal. Why are we worried about few species if we are not able to save this whole planet because of our own destructive actions (Karma)?? Nature is too big and you do what you are bloody made for. Don't you think too big human being! After all we are a fraction of what the whole Earth constitutes.

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