Scientists from Mahidol University in Thailand recently conducted an experiment on watermeal, the world’s smallest flowering plant, to assess its suitability for space and its potential as a food source for astronauts. The watermeal plant, which is even smaller than duckweed, is an aquatic plant commonly found floating on water bodies in Thailand and Asia.
The experiment took place at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) in the Netherlands, where researchers have access to hypergravity levels up to 20 times that of Earth. The team aimed to study how watermeal plants respond to changing gravity levels, as well as their growth and development.
Watermeal is an ideal candidate for space agriculture due to its ability to produce a significant amount of oxygen through photosynthesis and its nutritional value as a protein source. To further investigate, the scientists used clinostats to simulate microgravity conditions before conducting the experiment in the LDC.
During the experiment, watermeal samples were placed in specially designed boxes equipped with LEDs to mimic natural sunlight. These boxes were then placed in a centrifuge gondola, spinning at 20 times Earth’s gravity. This allowed the scientists to observe the plant’s response to hypergravity.
The team plans to directly examine the plants and analyze extracts to gain further insights into how watermeal responds to hypergravity. The experiment lasted for two weeks, enabling the researchers to study two generations of watermeal.
The experiment was made possible through the HyperGES program, which is sponsored by the ESA and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. The program aims to foster scientific advancements in the field of space biology and agriculture.
Interestingly, the LDC has also been recently utilized by an all-female team from Universidad Católica Boliviana San Pablo in Bolivia. Their research aims to investigate how hypergravity promotes the breakup of human red blood cells.
In conclusion, the experiment conducted by scientists from Mahidol University highlights the potential of watermeal as a suitable and valuable food source for astronauts in space. By studying its response to hypergravity, researchers hope to further develop space-based agriculture and explore innovative ways to sustain life in space.