A copolymer acrylamide acrylate gel was investigated as the sole root matrix for dark-grown seedlings of soybean (Glycine max Merr. `Century 84'). Increasing Ca2+ in the hydrating solution of the hydrogel from 1 to 10 mm decreased its water-holding capacity from 97 to 46 mL·g-1, yet water potential of the medium remained high, sufficient for normal plant growth at all Ca2+ concentrations tested. Elongation rate of dark-grown soybean seedlings over a 54-hour period was 0.9, 1.5, and 1.8 mm·h-1 with 1.0, 2.5, or 5.0 mm Ca2+, respectively, but did not increase with further increases in Ca2+ concentration. Further study revealed that Na+ was released from the hydrogel medium and was taken up by the seedlings as Ca2+ increased in the medium. In dry hypocotyl tissue, sodium content correlated negatively with calcium content. Despite the presence of Na+ in the hydrogel, seedling growth was normal when adequate Ca2+ was added in the hydrating solution. Acrylamide hydrogels hold good potential as a sole growth matrix for short-term experiments with dark-grown seedlings without irrigation.
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