In a previous post, we discussed what parabolic flights are and why they are used. But why are we using them this time? We are flying our custom imaging systems (FLEX) to observe how various genes behave in zero gravity in three distinct ways. These methods are either contained within FLEX imager itself or are external experiments designed to complement and verify the data collected within the imager.
We have two FLEX imager units, named Rocky and Bullwinkle. One unit will be operational on the ground, and the other will fly on the C-9 parabolic aircraft. This experimental design allows parallel data collection so we know that when we compare flight to ground, our differences are solely in what is happening during flight.
Part one of our experiment is green fluorescent protein (GFP) imaging. This system will take pictures of GFP in our plants by using blue LEDs to excite the GFP and filters to see where the GFP is located. We have already tagged GFP to genes of interest, and using this system will allow us to watch where these genes are active how they behave over the course of the parabolic flight.
Part one is supported by a floor harvest. During the course of a parabolic flight, we can do 10 parabolas before we run out of airspace and need to turn around. During these turns, we are able to open our Arabidopsis plates, take all the plants off of the plates, and put them into a solution that "freezes" (chemically preserves) the plants. We can to this at each of the turns (after 10, 20, 30, and 40 parabolas). For this campaign, we are harvesting the same plant "breeds" (lines) we are imaging in part one to verify that the change in GFP we may see through the camera is correct.
Part two of our experiment uses a FLIR thermal imaging camera. We are comparing two different lines of Arabidopsis where one of the lines cools itself better than the other. We want to see how the leaf temperature of these lines differ in zero gravity, since air can move differently in zero g.
Part three is an experiment designed to see what happens to plants at the beginning of one of these flights. Using a Kennedy Space Center Fixation Tube (KFT), we are going to preserve plants at various early points in the flight to separate the plant responses to hyper gravity and zero gravity.
Currently, we are in Building 993 at Ellington Air Field, awaiting the final go-ahead that we are ready to fly. Rocky and Bullwinkle are ready to go, and so are all of our plants. More updates soon! - Eric Schultz