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Sharon Edney, Jeffrey Richards, Matthew Sisko, Neil Yorio, Gary Stutte, and Raymond Wheeler

Development of a crop production system that can be used on the International Space Station, long duration transit missions, and a lunar/Mars habitat, is a part of NASA's Advanced Life Support (ALS) research efforts. Selected crops require the capability to be grown under environmental conditions that might be encountered in the open cabin of a space vehicle. It is also likely that the crops will be grown in a mixed-cropping system to increase the production efficiency and variety for the crew's dietary supplementation. Three candidate ALS salad crops, radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Flandria) and bunching onion (Allium fistulosum L. cv. Kinka) were grown hydroponically as either monoculture (control) or mixed-crop within a walk-in growth chamber with baseline environments maintained at 50% relative humidity, 300 μmol·m-2·s-1 PPF and a 16-hour light/8-hour dark photoperiod under cool-white fluorescent lamps. Environmental treatments in separate tests were performed with either 400, 1200, or 4000 μmol·mol-1 CO2 combined with temperature treatments of 25 °C or 28 °C. Weekly time-course harvests were taken over 28 days of growth. Results showed that none of the species experienced negative effects when grown together under mixed-crop conditions compared to monoculture growth conditions.

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Gioia D. Massa, Hyeon-Hye Kim, Raymond M. Wheeler, and Cary A. Mitchell

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have tremendous potential as supplemental or sole-source lighting systems for crop production both on and off earth. Their small size, durability, long operating lifetime, wavelength specificity, relatively cool emitting surfaces, and linear photon output with electrical input current make these solid-state light sources ideal for use in plant lighting designs. Because the output waveband of LEDs (single color, nonphosphor-coated) is much narrower than that of traditional sources of electric lighting used for plant growth, one challenge in designing an optimum plant lighting system is to determine wavelengths essential for specific crops. Work at NASA's Kennedy Space Center has focused on the proportion of blue light required for normal plant growth as well as the optimum wavelength of red and the red/far-red ratio. The addition of green wavelengths for improved plant growth as well as for visual monitoring of plant status has been addressed. Like with other light sources, spectral quality of LEDs can have dramatic effects on crop anatomy and morphology as well as nutrient uptake and pathogen development. Work at Purdue University has focused on geometry of light delivery to improve energy use efficiency of a crop lighting system. Additionally, foliar intumescence developing in the absence of ultraviolet light or other less understood stimuli could become a serious limitation for some crops lighted solely by narrow-band LEDs. Ways to prevent this condition are being investigated. Potential LED benefits to the controlled environment agriculture industry are numerous and more work needs to be done to position horticulture at the forefront of this promising technology.

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Gioia Massa, Thomas Graham, Tim Haire, Cedric Flemming II, Gerard Newsham, and Raymond Wheeler

Significant advances in controlled-environment (CE) plant production lighting have been made in recent years, driven by rapid improvements in light-emitting diode (LED) technologies. Aside from energy efficiency gains, LEDs offer the ability to customize the spectrum delivered to a crop, which may have untold benefits for growers and researchers alike. Understanding how these specific wavebands are attenuated by plant tissue is important if lighting engineers are to fully optimize systems for CE plant production. In this study, seven different greenhouse and field crops (radish, Raphanus sativus ‘Cherry Bomb II’; red romaine lettuce, Lactuca sativa ‘Outredgeous’, green leaf lettuce, Lactuca sativa ‘Waldmann’s Green’; pepper, Capsicum annuum ‘Fruit Basket’; soybean, Glycine max ’Hoyt’; cucumber, Cucumis sativus ‘Spacemaster’; canola, Brassica napus ‘Westar’) were grown in CE chambers under two different light intensities (225 and 420 μmol·m−2·s−1). Intact, fully expanded upper canopy leaves were used to determine the level of light transmission, at two to three different plant ages, across seven different wavebands with peaks at 400, 450, 530, 595, 630, 655, and 735 nm. The photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) environment that plants were grown in affected light transmission across the different LED wavelengths in a crop-dependent manner. Plant age had no effect on light transmission at the time intervals examined. Specific waveband transmission from the seven LED sources varied similarly across plant types with low transmission of blue and red wavelengths, intermediate transmission of green and amber wavelengths, and the highest transmission at the far-red wavelengths. Higher native PPF increased anthocyanin levels in red romaine lettuce compared with the lower native PPF treatment. Understanding the differences in light transmission will inform the development of novel, energy-saving lighting architectures for CE plant growth.

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Sheetal Rao, Scott Finlayson, Chuanjiu He, Ronald Lacey, Raymond Wheeler, and Fred T. Davies

The NASA Advanced Life Support (ALS) System for space habitation will likely operate under reduced atmospheric pressure (hypobaria). There are engineering, safety, and plant growth advantages in growing crops under low pressure. In closed production environments, such as ALS, excessive plant-generated ethylene may negatively impact plant growth. Growth of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) in the Low Pressure Plant Growth (LPPG) system was enhanced under low pressure (25kPa), due in part to decreased ethylene production. Under reduced pO2, ethylene production decreased under low as well as ambient conditions (He et al., 2003). During hypobaria, the expression of genes encoding ethylene biosynthesis enzymes, namely ACC synthase (ACS) and ACC oxidase (ACO), is not known. The primary objective of this research was to characterize the expression of ACS and ACO genes in response to hypobaria. Three-week-old Arabidopsis was used to determine the effects of hypobaria (25 kPa) and reduced O2 (12 kPa pO2) at the molecular level. Candidate gene expression was tested using quantitative real-time PCR at different times after treatment. Under low pressure, ACO1 expression is induced in the initial 12 hours of treatment, gradually decreasing with increased exposure. At 12 kPa pO2, ACO1 was induced under ambient conditions, suggesting that plants under low pressure may be more tolerant to hypoxic stress. The mechanism for enhanced growth of lettuce under hypobaric conditions will be studied further by analysis of the ACS and ACO gene families, and stress-responsive genes, namely late-embryogenesis abundant (LEA) proteins and dehydrins.

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Hyeon-Hye Kim, Gregory D. Goins, Raymond M. Wheeler, and John C. Sager

Plants will be an important component of future long-term space missions. Lighting systems for growing plants will need to be lightweight, reliable, and durable, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have these characteristics. Previous studies demonstrated that the combination of red and blue light was an effective light source for several crops. Yet the appearance of plants under red and blue lighting is purplish gray making visual assessment of any problems difficult. The addition of green light would make the plant leave appear green and normal similar to a natural setting under white light and may also offer a psychological benefit to the crew. Green supplemental lighting could also offer benefits, since green light can better penetrate the plant canopy and potentially increase plant growth by increasing photosynthesis from the leaves in the lower canopy. In this study, four light sources were tested: 1) red and blue LEDs (RB), 2) red and blue LEDs with green fluorescent lamps (RGB), 3) green fluorescent lamps (GF), and 4) cool-white fluorescent lamps (CWF), that provided 0%, 24%, 86%, and 51% of the total PPF in the green region of the spectrum, respectively. The addition of 24% green light (500 to 600 nm) to red and blue LEDs (RGB treatment) enhanced plant growth. The RGB treatment plants produced more biomass than the plants grown under the cool-white fluorescent lamps (CWF treatment), a commonly tested light source used as a broad-spectrum control.

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Craig S. Charron, Daniel J. Cantliffe, Raymond M. Wheeler, Ara Manukian, and Robert R. Heath

A system and methodology were developed for the nondestructive qualitative and quantitative analysis of volatile emissions from hydroponically grown `Waldmann's Green' leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). Photosynthetic photon flux (PPF), photoperiod, and temperature were automatically controlled and monitored in a growth chamber modified for the collection of plant volatiles. The lipoxygenase pathway products (Z)-3-hexenal, (Z)-3-hexenol, and (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate were emitted by lettuce plants after the transition from the light period to the dark period. The volatile collection system developed in this study enabled measurements of volatiles emitted by intact plants, from planting to harvest, under controlled environmental conditions.

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Craig S. Charron, Daniel J. Cantliffe, Raymond M. Wheeler, Ara Manukian, and Robert R. Heath

To investigate the effects of environment on plant volatile emissions, `Waldmann's Green' leaf lettuce was cultivated under different levels of photosynthetic photon flux (PPF), photoperiod, and temperature. A modified growth chamber was used to sample plant volatile emissions nondestructively, over time, and under controlled conditions. Total volatile emission rates were significantly higher from lettuce cultivated under PPF of 360 or 200 μmol·m-2·s-1 compared to 105 μmol·m-2·s-1, and significantly higher under a 16-h photoperiod than an 8-h photoperiod. No differences were detected among emission rates from different temperature treatments. In controlled environments, emissions could be regulated by adjusting environmental conditions accordingly.

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Sharon L. Edney, Jeffrey T. Richards, Matthew D. Sisko, Neil C. Yorio, Gary W. Stutte, and Raymond M. Wheeler

The development of a crop production system that can be used on the International Space Station, long-duration transit missions, and lunar or Mars habitats, has been a part of NASA's Advanced Life Support (ALS) research efforts. Crops that can be grown under environmental conditions that might be encountered in the open cabin of a space vehicle would be an advantageous choice. The production efficiency of the system would be enhanced by growing these crops in a mixed-crop arrangement. This would also increase the variety of fresh foods available for the crew's dietary supplementation. Three candidate ALS salad crops, radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Flandria), and bunching onion (Allium fistulosum L. cv. Kinka) were grown hydroponically as either monoculture (control) or mixed-crop within a walk-in growth chamber with baseline environments maintained at 22 °C, 50% RH, 17.2 mol·m-2·d-1 light intensity and a 16-h light/8-h dark photoperiod under cool-white fluorescent lamps. Tests were carried out at three different CO2 concentrations: 400, 1200, and 4000 μmol·mol-1. Weekly time-course harvests were taken over 28 days of growth, and fresh mass, dry mass, and harvest index were determined. Results showed that none of the species experienced negative effects when grown together under mixed-crop conditions compared to monoculture growth conditions under the range of environmental conditions tested.

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Neil C. Yorio, Jeff T. Richards, Sharon L. Edney, Joel O. Wilkinson, Gary W. Stutte*, and Raymond M. Wheeler

The effects of using mixed cropping strategies for reducing overall mass and increasing system efficiency was examined as part of NASA's mission to study minimally-processed or “salad” crops as dietary supplements on long-duration space missions. To test interspecific compatibility, radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Flandria), and bunching onion (Allium fistulosum L. cv. Kinka) were grown hydroponically as either monoculture (control) or mixed-crop within a walk-in growth chamber maintained at 25 °C, 50% relative humidity, 300 μmol·m-2·s-1 PPF, and a 16-h light/8-h dark photoperiod under cool-white fluorescent lamps. Weekly time-course harvests were taken over 28 days of growth. Results showed that none of the species showed any negative growth effects when grown together under mixed-crop compared to monoculture growth conditions. However, radish showed significant increases in edible mass when grown under mixed-crop compared to monoculture conditions. The observed increases in growth are likely attributable to increased light interception due to a decreased guard row effect as well as a faster canopy development for radish.

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Michael F. Polozola II, Daniel E. Wells, J. Raymond Kessler, Wheeler G. Foshee, Amy N. Wright, and Bryan S. Wilkins

An experiment was conducted to determine the effects of banded phosphorus (P) applications at differing rates in irrigated and nonirrigated pecan (Carya illinoinensis) plots on P movement within the soil, P uptake and movement within pecan trees, and the yield and quality of nuts. On 20 Mar. 2015, P applications of 0 kg·ha−1 (0×), 19.6 kg·ha−1 (1×), 39.2 kg·ha−1 (2×), and 78.5 kg·ha−1 (4×) were administered to bands of triple superphosphate to randomly selected trees in nonirrigated and irrigated plots of a ‘Desirable’ orchard bordered by ‘Elliot’ trees. When P was applied at the 2× and 4× rates, the total soil test P decreased linearly by 35% and 54%, respectively, in nonirrigated plots and by 41% and 59%, respectively, in irrigated plots over the course of the experiment. There was no change in soil test P over time at the 0× rate for either irrigation regimen; however, at the 1× rate, soil test P decreased 44% in the irrigated plot but did not change in the nonirrigated plot. The largest linear decrease of the soil test P from the start of the experiment to the end of the experiment occurred in the top 0 to 7.6 cm. In contrast, soil test P at a depth of 15.2 to 22.9 cm decreased linearly by 23% in the nonirrigated plot, but it did not decrease over time in the irrigated plot. Increasing the P application rate increased foliar P quadratically in the nonirrigated plot, but only the 4× application rate increased foliar P compared with the 0× control. In the irrigated plot, foliar P concentrations decreased linearly from 2015 to 2017, and foliar P concentrations were not influenced by the P application rate. No differences in pecan yield or quality were observed in either irrigated or nonirrigated plots. Overall, P banding may not be the most sustainable way to increase foliar concentrations of P quickly or to maintain concentrations of the nutrient in the long term.