Open Access Research article

Gravitational and magnetic field variations synergize to cause subtle variations in the global transcriptional state of Arabidopsis in vitro callus cultures

Ana I Manzano1, Jack JWA van Loon2, Peter CM Christianen3, Juana M Gonzalez-Rubio4, F Javier Medina1 and Raul Herranz1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (CSIC), C/Ramiro de Maeztu 9, E-28040 Madrid, Spain

2 Dutch Experiment Support Center, DESC at OCB-ACTA, Free University and Univ. of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

3 High Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML), Institute for Molecules and Materials, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

4 Centro Nacional de Biotecnología (UAM-CSIC), Madrid, Spain

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:105  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-105

Published: 21 March 2012



Biological systems respond to changes in both the Earth's magnetic and gravitational fields, but as experiments in space are expensive and infrequent, Earth-based simulation techniques are required. A high gradient magnetic field can be used to levitate biological material, thereby simulating microgravity and can also create environments with a reduced or an enhanced level of gravity (g), although special attention should be paid to the possible effects of the magnetic field (B) itself.


Using diamagnetic levitation, we exposed Arabidopsis thaliana in vitro callus cultures to five environments with different levels of effective gravity and magnetic field strengths. The environments included levitation, i.e. simulated μg* (close to 0 g* at B = 10.1 T), intermediate g* (0.1 g* at B = 14.7 T) and enhanced gravity levels (1.9 g* at B = 14.7 T and 2 g* at B = 10.1 T) plus an internal 1 g* control (B = 16.5 T). The asterisk denotes the presence of the background magnetic field, as opposed to the effective gravity environments in the absence of an applied magnetic field, created using a Random Position Machine (simulated μg) and a Large Diameter Centrifuge (2 g).

Microarray analysis indicates that changes in the overall gene expression of cultured cells exposed to these unusual environments barely reach significance using an FDR algorithm. However, it was found that gravitational and magnetic fields produce synergistic variations in the steady state of the transcriptional profile of plants. Transcriptomic results confirm that high gradient magnetic fields (i.e. to create μg* and 2 g* conditions) have a significant effect, mainly on structural, abiotic stress genes and secondary metabolism genes, but these subtle gravitational effects are only observable using clustering methodologies.


A detailed microarray dataset analysis, based on clustering of similarly expressed genes (GEDI software), can detect underlying global-scale responses, which cannot be detected by means of individual gene expression techniques using raw or corrected p values (FDR). A subtle, but consistent, genome-scale response to hypogravity environments was found, which was opposite to the response in a hypergravity environment.