If NASA is going to spend all the time and trouble to send plants into space aboard the International Space Station (ISS), you might wonder why Arabidopsis thaliana?
Arabidopsis thaliana (commonly called Arabidopsis) is a small flowering plant native to Eurasia. Arabidopsis has enjoyed a long history as a model organism for scientists interested in plant biology and genomic research. Model plants are selected for their traits with the understanding that insights into the research model plant will yield insights to other plant species. One key aspect that makes Arabidopsis a good model organism is its genome. Arabidopsis has one of the smallest genomes of any plant, and as a result of its reduced genetic complexity, it was the first plant genome to be sequenced in full.
Another important quality that makes Arabidopsis so attractive to gene hunters is its size. The Arabidopsis seeds are so tiny Wyatt Lab researchers will plate 800 seeds to a single petri dish, and this is mission critical for two reasons. First, space is limited aboard the ISS, and as a result, the Wyatt Lab is only allotted 20 petri dishes total. And since the researchers need plant tissue to extract both protein and RNA, the more seeds that can fit on a dish, the better.
In summary, by sending a model organism (in this case, Arabidopsis) into space, Wyatt Lab researchers are able to tap into and leverage the enormous amount of genomic research already compiled on this amazing little space traveller. And after all, why reinvent the allele?