Researcher to send cotton into space to improve its growth on Earth

April 27, 2018 by Eric Hamilton, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Simon Gilroy, professor of botany at UW–Madison, meets with his graduate students in Birge Hall in March 2018. Credit: Bryce Richter

Jeans are thirsty. The fibers making up their denim come from water-guzzling cotton plants, and plant scientists are on the hunt for ways to make this vital fiber more sustainable.

So, naturally, they're sending into space.

University of Wisconsin–Madison botanist Simon Gilroy will study cotton seedlings grown on the International Space Station in an effort to better understand the important crop's growth back on Earth. Gilroy's proposed experiment was one of three winners selected by a cotton sustainability research challenge sponsored by Target and organized by the nonprofit Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS.

"The goal is to understand root system growth to help understand how to generate cotton with roots that grow deep to scavenge water more efficiently and also sequester more carbon in the soil," says Gilroy.

"The project gives us an unprecedented opportunity to ask how gravity governs cotton root growth," he says.

Gilroy's team will study a cotton variety that, on Earth at least, resists stresses like drought better than most cotton. Researchers believe this stems from roots that are better able to explore the soil for water and nutrients. Since root growth is affected by gravity, Gilroy's experiment will ask how the absence of gravity affects the cotton plant's , stress response and root behavior. That information may help researchers understand how to develop cotton plants that use water more efficiently.

The Dragon Resupply Ship, pictured on a previous mission, will deliver Gilroy’s cotton seeds to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Twenty-five million metric tons of are grown around the world each year, and each kilogram requires thousands of liters of to produce. CASIS developed the ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge to address this environmental impact. The other winners are Marshall Moutenot of Upstream Tech in Alameda, California, and Christopher Saski of Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.

Launches are tentatively scheduled for early 2019.

Learn about more of UW–Madison botany professor Simon Gilroy’s experiments with plants in space. Credit: University Communications / UW–Madison

Explore further: Zero gravity plant growth experiments delivered to space station

Related Stories

Using sugar molecules to make cotton material glow

September 15, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from Germany, Israel and Austria has developed a process for imbuing cotton fibers with material that glows under fluorescent light. In their paper published in the journal Science, the ...

Top brands failing on cotton sustainability

June 7, 2016

The majority of international companies using most cotton globally are failing to deliver on cotton sustainability according to new independent research published today by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, Solidaridad and ...

Recommended for you

Researchers engineer a tougher fiber

February 22, 2019

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a fiber that combines the elasticity of rubber with the strength of a metal, resulting in a tougher material that could be incorporated into soft robotics, packaging ...

A quantum magnet with a topological twist

February 22, 2019

Taking their name from an intricate Japanese basket pattern, kagome magnets are thought to have electronic properties that could be valuable for future quantum devices and applications. Theories predict that some electrons ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.