A system maintaining continuous water tension on a nutrient solution has been developed to control root zone moisture levels for plants in microgravity conditions. This study was conducted in a growth chamber to characterize potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) responses to constant water tension compared to plants grown with no tension using a free-water technique. In three separate experiments, plants were grown in trays filled with a 4-cm layer of 1-mm-diameter isolite (porous ceramic) particles. Ten porous stainless-steel tubes, 4 cm apart, were buried in the medium, and nutrient solution was drawn through the porous tubes under a constant water tension of -0.5 kPa maintained with a siphon system. For the free-water treatment, trays were slanted, and solution was supplied along the upper end of trays, passed under the medium, and then collected at the lower end and recirculated. The same nutrient solution was recirculated through both treatments at a flow rate of 150 ml·min-1 through each tray and maintained at a pH of 5.6. Uniform micropropagated `Norland' potato plantlets were transplanted into replicate trays and maintained at 18C, 70% relative humidity, and a continuous photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) of 450 μmol·m-2·s-1. Water tension reduced total plant dry weight, leaf area, leaf number, and stolon number by >75%, but specific leaf weight increased compared to free water. However, tubers enlarged more rapidly with water tension, and plants consistently partitioned a greater fraction of biomass into tubers (than into shoots). Tuber weight was greater with water tension than in the free-water culture in Expt. 1 harvested 37 days after transplanting, however it was less in Expt. 2 when plants were grown to a larger size for 52 days before harvest. Leaf CO2 assimilation rate, stomatal conductance, and transpiration were reduced with water tension, although the relative water content of leaves was not significantly affected. Also, with water tension, concentrations of N, P, Zn, and Cu in leaf tissues decreased, whereas tissue Fe increased compared to plants grown with free water. The results in this study demonstrate that constant water tension significantly affects potato plant growth and shifts biomass partitioning toward tubers.
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