CORVALLIS - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Gravitational and Ecology Program has awarded an Oregon State University plant physiologist a three-year grant of more than $500,000 to continue her studies of plant responses to light and gravity.
Terri Lomax, a professor of botany and plant pathology at OSU, has studied the role of both gravity and light in the development and growth of plants at OSU since 1987. Her laboratory had an experiment on the NASA shuttle flight that included John Glenn last year.
By studying the molecular genetics of a mutant strain of tomato called "lazy 2," that responds abnormally to gravity, Lomax and her colleagues hope to help the world better understand how plants grow, both on Earth and someday in outer space.
Her "lazy 2" tomato grows normally upright in the dark. But upon exposure to light, the stems grow droopily downward, toward the pull of gravity. Most other plants grow up, away from gravity.
"This tomato gives us a unique tool to study how plants react to both light and gravity and how they interact to regulate plant growth and development," said Lomax.
Her work has potential applications both in outer space and here at home in Oregon with home gardeners, she said.
"Our research should lead to the development of future flight experiments with NASA," she said. "And, practically, we want to learn more how to grow plants in space stations, where there may be light, but reduced gravity."
The "weeping" style of the lazy 2 mutant tomato has also given Lomax, an avid home gardener, the idea for a new variety of tomato for hanging baskets, she calls "Chains of Gold." Work is in progress on this new yellow-fruited hanging variety.