AUSTRALIA: Seeds return from space

Native to one of the world's harshest climates, Australian seeds have to put up with a lot of challenges before they germinate. But it's unlikely any have been through more than a group of seeds that will be propagated after six months orbiting the earth.

The seeds last week returned to earth from the international space station in the final leg of an experiment that aimed to test if Australian seeds were hardy enough to germinate after a trip through space.

"Australian seeds are among the hardiest seeds on earth. Now we'll see if they are among the toughest in the universe," Australia's Botanic Gardens Trust executive director, Dr Tim Entwisle said. "We'll compare the space-seeds with a 'control group' of identical seeds that we kept here on earth."

Entwisle said the experiment would show how Australian seeds respond to microgravity and ionising radiation and determine if Australian plants could be suitable as oxygen producers when humans colonised the moon or other planets. In addition, the NASA experiment could provide a preliminary evaluation of Space Station seedbanking - a possible option for the future.

"Great advances in science are often the result of unexpected results. Sending native seeds into space may open up whole new research areas, or it may confirm that we are already doing the best we can to conserve our seed for future needs," he said.