Tendrils: Eryngium tripartitum 'Jade Frost'

Hello! And welcome to the last Tendrils of 2016. Winter has come to the garden at last, with a series of hard frosts. It’s bloomin’ chilly outside, so we don’t go out for much longer than it takes to refill the bird feeders or pop to the compost heap. I checked on the worms yesterday. After spending last winter in the bath, they’re staying in the garden in their Can-O-Worms this year. They’re tucked into a corner between two house walls, protected on another side by the garden fence. In their sheltered spot, benefiting from warmth from the house, so far they’re doing OK.

As not much is happening outside, and we’re in the midst of the festive break, it seems like a good time to catch up on extraterrestrial plant news. Japanese researchers have been examining cucumber seedlings germinated on the International Space Station (ISS).

Cucumbers were chosen for the study as they – like other “cucurbitaceous” seedlings such as melons, pumpkins and squash—feature specialized protuberances, or pegs, whose formation is regulated by gravity.
The results showed that the seedlings developed differently under microgravity than under simulated gravity, with the researchers identifying a gravity-sensitive protein (CsPIN1) as playing a key role. Unlike many of the reports I found, the one linked above (at Phys.org) gets brownie points for actually citing the study (Chiaki Yamazaki et al. The gravity-induced re-localization of auxin efflux carrier CsPIN1 in cucumber seedlings: spaceflight experiments for immunohistochemical microscopy, npj Microgravity (2016). DOI: 10.1038/npjmgrav.2016.30). It’s an open access paper, if you fancy a read.

Just before Christmas, 4 volunteers (3 male, 1 female) emerged from 180 days sealed inside a space capsule. Their mission was to test whether humans can rely on recycling food, water, and oxygen. They lived in 370 square meters, and cultivated 25 species of plants. I haven’t sussed out the entire list yet, but it included wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soy beans, peanuts, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and strawberries.

NASA’s new NASA Space Science Investigations: Plant Growth app lets you take your place on the space station crew, tasked with helping out with the plant growth experiment. I’ve installed the app, but that’s about as far as I’ve got at the moment 😉 Let me know if you try it!

Back on Earth, a ‘a high fidelity test version’ of NASA’s Advanced Plant Habitat arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida towards the end of November. The actual APH should follow early in the new year. It’s a closed-loop, controlled-environment farming system, big enough to grow plants larger than carrots and potatoes. To begin with, however, it will follow the much beaten path of growing Arabidopsis, the tiny test plant so beloved of plant scientists.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are continuing with work to breed new varieties of mango in space (among other species). The environment in space – with cosmic radiation, micro-gravity, a weak magnetic field and vacuum – is conducive to mutations. Not healthy if you’re a human, but a source of new genetic biodiversity for plants. Mangoes are tricky, apparently, because they are recalcitrant – their seeds are only viable when fresh. (Most seeds are orthodox and respond quite well to being dried out and stored, especially in cold conditions.)

Grow Something Different: Jade Pearls and Alien Eyballs

Modern Veg Plot has instructions on how to grow your own alien space eggs – kiwano, Cucumis metuliferus. It’s an exotic fruit with a tangy banana/melon flavour, which is apparently easy to grow if you’ve got a greenhouse. Seeds aren’t the easiest things to come by, but Pennard Plants have them, if you want to try it yourself. They’re currently offering 25% off all seed orders, using the code Happynewyear2017 in the discount/coupon box at checkout, until 10th January 2017, although there’s a pre-discount minimum order value of £8.50. For more offers like those, join my Facebook gardening offers and competitions group, and save yourself some money this year!

And astronauts could have some meat to go with their veg, if experiments with blasting meat pies into space bear any fruit. Actually, this high altitude flight was a marketing gimmick, advertising the World Pie Eating Championships that were held in Wigan this month. The pie:

remained in the air for more than two hours before beginning a graceful descent into a field 38 miles away from its launchpad. First indications were that it did not reheat on entry.
What can I do? With true news stories as ridiculous as that one, it’s hardly surprising that fake news and exaggarated claims do the rounds so easily. The BBC News website has a story on Fake news in 2016: What it is, what it wasn’t, how to help, which includes advice on spotting stories that simply aren’t true.

And with that we bid toodaloo to the 2016 Tendrils. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be here again next week to see what Tendrils 2017 has to offer! Happy New Year everybody!

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