Plant Biology

Revisiting The Limits Of Plant Life – Plant Adaptations To Extreme Terrestrial Environments Relating To Astrobiology And Space Biology

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Frontiers In Plant Science
February 8, 2024
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Revisiting The Limits Of Plant Life – Plant Adaptations To Extreme Terrestrial Environments Relating To Astrobiology And Space Biology
Tomato plant growing in microgravity aboard the International Space Station — NASA

Plants were essential to the early evolution of terrestrial life and colonization of the young Earth (Kapoor et al., 2023). Plant communities continue to colonize and transform our planet including the newest ecosystems formed post-glaciation, restoring those degraded by human activities and adapting to changing ecological conditions (Huston and Smith, 1987; Chapin et al., 1994; Yuan et al., 2020; Heim et al., 2021).

Plants cannot move away from a harmful stimulus, and thus, have evolved remarkable strategies to survive and eventually thrive in harsh environments. Today, humanity is on the verge of exploring our solar system and beyond, eager to discover, answer fundamental questions, and search for extraterrestrial forms of life.

Undoubtedly, plants are key organisms to successful deep space missions and independence from the provision of terrestrial resources, whether for long duration interplanetary travel or establishing permanent settlements. We can employ terrestrial bio-design principles to mimic plant colonization on Earth and explore adaptations to novel ecosystems.

This can be combined with precise molecular tools to enable long-term human space exploration. With this thought in mind, we have collated articles focusing on terrestrial plants from extreme environments and their adaptations to harsh conditions. This collective knowledge will advance the selection of desired plant characteristics relevant to human space missions and assist in the identification of valuable adaptive mechanisms that can be genetically engineered in targeted space food plants.

Furthermore, terrestrial plants from the edge of habitability define limits for terrestrial forms of life and thus can direct efforts for the search for life beyond Earth (McKay, 2014; Huwe et al., 2019).

Zupanska AK, Arena C, Zuñiga GE, Casanova-Katny A, Turnbull JD, Bravo LA, Ramos P, Sun H and Shishov VV (2023) Editorial: Revisiting the limits of plant life – plant adaptations to extreme terrestrial environments relating to astrobiology and space biology. Front. Plant Sci. 14:1267183. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2023.1267183


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻