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Student project “Glücksklee” researching plants as a food source on the ISS set to launch 14 March in Florida

Student project “Glücksklee” researching plants as a food source on the ISS set to launch 14 March in Florida

Press release from

LUH team wins “Überflieger 2” – a competition by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA)

After developing the experiment “Glücksklee” (Luck Clover), a team of ten students from Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) and Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) have successfully participated in the “Überflieger 2” competition and were awarded 20,000 euros. Within the context of future long-term emissions in space, it will become necessary for astronauts to grow plants in spacecrafts as a source of food. However, the change in gravity during missions affects plant growth. This phenomenon was the focus of the investigation with which the Glücksklee team were able to impress the competition jury, comprising the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA). In addition to the LUH group, three other teams from universities in Munich, Stuttgart and Luxembourg were successfully selected for their research in other key areas on the ISS.

After a year and a half of intensive preparation, the team at LUH will finally be able to send their experiment on SpaceX CRS-27 on its mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Part of the team will attend the launch scheduled 14 March 2023 at 1 a.m. (CET) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Clover (Medicago truncatula), infected with a bacterium (Sinorhizobium meliloti), will be sent on the spacecraft to the ISS. Usually, in addition to light, air and water, plants need fertiliser to flourish. However, the students are researching a method that involves “self-fertilising” through symbiosis with the bacterium, so that the plants are able to thrive without fertiliser. How does it work? 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 the nitrogen it needs to grow. As a result of the nitrogen-fixing root nodules, the plant is able to survive without mineral nitrogen fertiliser. “The project aims to investigate whether the formation of the symbiosis is disturbed under microgravity conditions”, explains Nils Wörz, a member of the Glücksklee team. Plants that do not need fertiliser – for example, nutrient-rich legumes such as lentils or peas – would be a valuable source of food in space if they can be grown in microgravity conditions.

The entire experiment is housed in a 10x10x20 centimetre container, situated on the ISS four weeks. Growth will be documented via camera. After the plants and bacteria have returned to Earth, the students will use RNA sequencing as well as other methods to evaluate the experiment and determine whether it is possible to produce “self-fertilising” plants under microgravity conditions. “This would be extremely significant in the context of long-term emissions” says Wörz.

Glücksklee is an interdisciplinary team of ten students. In addition to plant biotechnology, the fields mechanical engineering and computer science contributed to the technical implementation of the project. The team is based at the Institute of Plant Genetics at LUH (Plant Genomics Section, Prof. Helge Küster), under the supervision of Dr. Natalija Hohnjec. The Institute of Product Development and Equipment Construction as well as the Institute of Microelectronic Systems of LUH provide technical support.

Visit https://gluecksklee.space/media for further information on project Glücksklee.

A live transmission of the SpaceX CRS-27 launch on 14 March at 1 a.m. (CET) will be streamed on the NASA website at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive


Note to editors:

For further information, please contact Nils Wörz (project “Glücksklee”) via email at nils.woerz@gmx.com.