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Novogene in Partnership with the Lucky Clover Project on board the International Space Station

The Glücksklee, or Lucky Clover, team, a group of students from Leibniz University Hannover in Germany whose project was selected to be launched aboard the International Space Station to study the effects of zero gravity on the symbiosis between the plant Medicago truncatula and the root bacteria Sinorhizobium meliloti. Novogene was selected as the sequencing partner for the project, and we will be analysing RNA samples to support the team in determining the effects of zero gravity on the expression of genes such as those associated with growth, stress response, and symbiosis.

The multidisciplinary team consists of students from plant biotechnology, biochemistry, mechanical engineering, computer science, horticulture, and plant cultivation backgrounds, all required to design an apparatus containing a biological and electronic unit to house the plants aboard the ISS and monitor factors such as temperature, carbon dioxide and humidity.

We recently caught up with Pia Bensch and Nils Wörz , plant biotechnology masters students and members of the Lucky Clover team that travelled to the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) to assemble the experiment before its launch from Florida back in March of this year. The experiment is now back in their lab in Hannover, safely frozen at -80°C while they develop protocols for extracting the precious RNA samples.

“We were able to use the lab facilities at the SSPF to assemble everything and then we had to test the set up under a vacuum to ensure it was actually airtight. We were quite nervous for this as we hadn’t been able to test this element in our own labs, but the vacuum held for the required 10 minutes and we were able to proceed to the launch”, said Pia.

“The launch was successful and a few days later we got our first data set and pictures”, said Nils. “The experiment was originally supposed to last for 40 days but the temperatures were slightly higher than we had planned. We eventually began to observe through CO2 and oxygen sensor data, and by looking at photos, that our plants weren’t doing so well so we requested that the experiment be cut short, and our plants frozen aboard the ISS before they died.”

The plants returned to earth earlier than planned but it was for the best, and training is underway for carrying out the RNA extraction.

“The issue right now is that the agarose gel the plants were growing in is frozen solid, and we need to figure out how best to extract the RNA without thawing it or the RNA is at risk of degrading. But we’ve been practising hard and next week we are going to attempt the extraction,” said Nils.

Novogene are delighted to be supporting such an exciting project and to be able to speak with the scientists involved. We wish the group the very best of luck with the rest of the work and look forward to receiving the RNA samples!