Ohio Wesleyan professor Chris Wolverton has earned two NASA grants to explore how plants respond to gravity, including sending research to be conducted on the International Space Station.

Streamlining Space Studies

OWU Professor Collaborates with Fellow NASA Researchers on GeneLab Protocols, Journal Publication

By Cole Hatcher

DELAWARE, Ohio – Work by NASA-funded researchers, including Ohio Wesleyan University professor Chris Wolverton, to standardize protocols for genetic studies conducted in outer space will help to ensure that none of their important scientific data falls into academic black holes.

The researchers, with Wolverton as a co-author, have published information about their efforts to create more meaningful and sharable data in the April 23 edition of iScience, an open-access journal published by Cell Press. The article, outlining work that began in 2018, is titled “NASA GeneLab RNA-seq consensus pipeline: Standardized processing of short-read RNA-seq data.”

“It’s focused on how to extract the most information content as possible from the numerous plant space biology experiments that have flown,” said Wolverton, Ph.D., an OWU professor of Botany and Microbiology who, to date, has earned two NASA grants to support his research into how plants respond to gravity.

Wolverton’s intergalactic efforts have included sending plant seedlings to the International Space Station in 2017, and, following the plants’ return to Ohio Wesleyan, additional research to more fully understand how they grew under slightly different, but highly controlled, gravitational conditions. His goals include not only determining best protocols for growing plants in space, but also for improving plant viability, health, and crop yield on earth.

A total of 25 Ohio Wesleyan student-scientists have assisted Wolverton his research, which is ongoing. His most recent NASA funding, a three-year, $449,921 NASA grant, was announced in September.

In addition to studying gravity’s effect on plants, Wolverton also researches how plants integrate signals such as light and touch to influence their growth and development. His lab uses a combination of mutants, transgenic approaches, and reporter gene studies along with a custom hardware and software system that combines real-time image analysis with motor control to study the dynamics of plant sensory output and growth regulation.

Learn more about Wolverton’s research and teaching through his blog, Gravitropic.

Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more undergraduate majors than many universities its size and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at owu.edu.