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Space Sex

Bad News! Plants Can’t Germinate In Space

By James Donahue

A recent story in the journal Plos One has confirmed something researchers have been considering for years: all earth creatures need the gravitational influence of Mother Earth for successful reproduction of the species.

The research, in technical terms, found that "cell wall assembly and intracellular trafficking in plant cells are directly affected by changes in the magnitude of gravitational acceleration."

The story was taken lightly by a writer for the Daily Mail who suggested that the data was "bad news for the 220-mile-high club" and that the findings somehow prohibited human sexual activity in space. But the findings did not mean this. The implications are much more severe.

While humans, animals and plants may someday survive long journeys through space to visit other planets, the concept of colonizing places like Mars or the Moon may be virtually impossible if the gravitational pull of Earth is required for successful reproduction.

While NASA scientists have been busy studying the health of astronauts in orbit for the past 50 years, nobody has really looked at how the human reproductive system responds to the microgravity of Earth orbit or considered the low gravity of the Moon and Mars, or the hyper-gravity of a giant planet.

If plants can’t successfully germinate in space, it is very likely that humans can’t either. We may be more Earth-bound than we ever realized.

A story by Laura Woodmansee for Live Science notes that University of Montreal researchers conducted the study that proved that the reproductive processes in plants are affected by changes in gravity. She says the study is important "because it gives us a clue as to how the human reproductive system might react to micro-or hyper-gravity."

This suggests that humans may not be able to colonize the Moon or Mars, or think of traveling long distances to other earth-like stars until we determine how to solve this basic problem of reproduction. A synthetic life system on other planets will be impossible if we cannot create working greenhouses to produce food and successfully propagate our own species.

Woodmansee asks: "Can you imagine how those kinds of changes would affect a human embryo? At this point in time, I hope that no one would want to do that experiment. . . Right now, it would be unethical to conceive a baby in orbit, or even risk conception."

We may be more bound to this planet than we ever imagined. And this makes the urgency of protecting and maintaining the health of our planet even more of a political and scientific issue than we ever imagined.