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Lucky Clover in Space: Students Develop Experiment for the ISS

Lucky Clover in Space: Students Develop Experiment for the ISS

A team of ten Leibniz University students from the fields of plant biotechnology, mechanical engineering and computer science has successfully participated in the "Überflieger 2" competition organised by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA). As a result the "Glücksklee" (lucky clover) project they developed is expected to travel to the International Space Station ISS in early 2023.
With their idea of investigating the symbiosis of clover with root bacteria in microgravity, they were able to convince the jury. In addition to the scientific and technological value, the projects were also selected according to feasibility and optimal use of the special conditions on the ISS.

Investigation of symbiosis performance in microgravity

The "Glücksklee" project investigates what effects the changed gravity can have on plant growth. Specifically, the experiment focuses on the symbiosis between the clover Medicago truncatula and the soil bacterium Sinorhizobium melilot. On the ground, the bacteria nest in the roots of the clover and receive nutrients from the plant. In return, they supply the plant with nitrogen, which it needs to grow. Thanks to the nitrogen-fixing root nodules, the plant is able to manage without mineral nitrogen fertiliser. The "Glücksklee" project is to investigate to what extent the formation of the symbiosis is disturbed under microgravity conditions. For this, the entire experiment must be housed in a 10x10x20 centimetre container and be able to be carried out autonomously for 30 days in the "Tango Lab" of the ISS. The team is currently working on developing sterile growing containers and a way to provide sufficient lighting for the plants.
After the plants and bacteria have returned to Earth, the students will use transcriptome and metabolome studies in addition to microscopic techniques to analyse nodule histology to investigate the effects of microgravity on nodule physiology. The experiments should contribute to the question of whether the production of "self-fertilising" plants is possible under microgravity conditions. This would be particularly important for future long-term missions.

Support from the Institute of Plant Genetics

The students were able to win Dr. Natalija Hohnjec and Prof. Dr. Helge Küster from the Institute of Plant Genetics as support for their project. The symbiosis of the legume and the soil bacterium is already well established in their plant genomics research group.

In addition to the Leibniz University project, student projects from Munich, Stuttgart and Luxembourg will also be sent to the ISS. The four winning teams each received 20,000 Euros in financial support to realise their experiment. In addition, the students will be invited to experience the launch of the carrier rocket with their experiments live on site.