Tiny flower plant can withstand giant gravity

A group of Thai scientists tested wolffia, which is also called watermeal, on a European centrifuge.This is the smallest flower plant in the world, it turns out to be able to withstand gigantic loads.

A water plant of wolffia. Source: Wikipedia

Wolffia on a centrifuge

A team of scientists from Mahidol University in Thailand used a large-diameter centrifuge from the European Space Agency to study how tiny plants withstand hypergravity. They believe that wolffia, which is also called watermeal, can greatly help astronauts in their travels.

Wolffia are tiny green balls with a diameter of about 1 mm floating in the upper layer of water. The species that scientists have studied is widespread in the reservoirs of Southeast Asia. Despite the appearance, these are not algae, but angiosperms. Sometimes they even have very small and primitive flowers. 

Scientists were mainly interested in how the wolffia withstands the increased gravity that is present when launching a spacecraft into space and many orbital maneuvers. For this, they used a four-arm centrifuge located at the ESA’s ESTEC research center in the Netherlands.

This structure has a diameter of 8 meters and each of its six gondolas can hold up to 80 kg of cargo. At maximum acceleration, it makes 67 revolutions per minute. Thanks to this, the load is 20 times greater than with the Earth’s gravity.

Why scientists are interested in this plant

The main reason that forced scientists to research wolffia is that these tiny green balls have enormous nutritional value. Per unit mass, they have the same value as beans. Therefore, breeding them in tanks is seen as a great way to provide astronauts with food during long journeys in space.

However, to do this, they must normally tolerate overloads during launch. And this was tested during the current series of experiments. Wolffia was placed in boxes with water, inside which there were LEDs simulating sunlight. In this form, it was placed in a centrifuge. 

Plants were “twisted” in the entire range of loads. However, according to the results of experiments, scientists have not found a difference in the increase in mass of plants at 1 g compared to those that grew with increased gravity.

“Our two weeks of experimentation give us access to two generations of watermeal overall,” said chief researcher Tatpong Tulyananda. “What we do next is examine the plants directly, then render extracts into a solid pellet form that we will take home to study. Then we can put these samples through detailed chemical analysis to gain insights into the broad spectrum of watermeal’s hypergravity response.”

According to phys.org

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