AstroPlants: Space Biology Lab

  • Code BIO26
  • Student Ages 14-18

With the successful launches of the Blue Origin and SpaceX spacecrafts, space tourism is the new frontier of science, travel, and adventure. Space exploration has shaped our ideas about living on Earth, including sustainable agriculture and health. Can we grow food off of the Earth? How can ground-based studies help us to understand what happens to organisms when they live in space?

In this course, students will study a miniature, fast-growing wheat, Brassica rapa, to conduct a ground-based laboratory experiment using this AstroPlant (developed for living on the International Space Station). They will set up their own plant box in a way that mimics the cosmic space environment and then conduct experiments to study the impacts of that environment on the wheat by identifying which plant traits (growth, height, leaf size, color, etc.) are changed. In addition, they will analyze actual RNA sequencing data from NASA studies with Brassica rapa planted and grown on the International Space Station and on Earth to see if there are changes in those plants’ genes.

Live Classes: Tuesdays, 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Student Expectations: Each week there will be a list of assignments and activities for the next week posted in the online classroom. These will include readings, fun videos or websites, questions, quizzes, and instructions to students for posting their plant data and pictures online for class discussions. Assignments typically are due the following week before class. Students will be expected to report their findings from their experiments in a lab paper.

Student Support: The instructor is available by email.

Feedback/Assessment: The instructor will provide written feedback on activities and written assignments.

Materials/Supplies: Readings and assignments will be provided on the course website or by email. A list of supplies for growing fast plants will be provided before class commences. These items will easily be found in local stores and online.

Prerequisites: None. While this course complements “Space Biology” (BIO25), that course is not a prerequisite to this one. This is an introductory biology course, and students are not expected to have a background in biology, although they should be able to read and engage with scientific material and participate in course activities.

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