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New Clues for Growing Resilient Crops Found in Space-Grown Cotton

Cotton is one of the world’s most vital agricultural commodities, used in products from clothes to coffee filters. It’s also a resource-draining plant that farmers struggle to grow sustainably. The search for genetic clues that could produce resilient cotton plants that use resources more efficiently yielded new results when a research team utilized the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory to study cotton’s response to microgravity and stress.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough shows off bright green cotton leaves during the experiment. Image credit: NASA

The latest issue of Upward, official magazine of the ISS National Lab, explores an investigation by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) that compared how ordinary cotton and cotton genetically modified to withstand drought grew in space. Plants typically struggle to thrive in harsh space environments. To the team’s surprise, the test cotton, especially the genetically modified variety, grew better in space than on Earth. Determining exactly why cotton seems to thrive in space is a mystery that UW researchers are investigating.

Decoding these findings could lead to the production of more resilient crops that withstand stressful conditions on Earth and during long-term space missions.  

Upward is dedicated to communicating the results of space station experiments that demonstrate the value of space-based research and technology development. Read the article “Cultivating the Cosmos: Decoding Crop Resilience Through Space-Grown Cotton” to discover how scientists leveraged microgravity to pinpoint new genetic avenues that may unlock future sustainable, resilient crops.

The full Upward Volume 6, Issue 3 and previous issues are now available for download.


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