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  • Author or Editor: Raymond Wheeler x
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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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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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Abstract

Polyurethane foam plugs commonly are used as collars or supports to grow plants in solution culture. Despite their utility, these foam plugs can be quite toxic to plants, particularly to small seedlings. We have observed tissue injury in tests using plugs to support lettuce, red beet, and potato plants in solution culture. Typically, the injury is initiated on the hypocotyl or stem tissue in direct contact with the foam, and appears within 30 hr as a brownish discoloration on the tissue surface. This discoloration can be followed by complete collapse of affected tissue and eventual death of the seedling. When injury does not progress beyond surface browning, the seedling survives but growth is slowed. In this paper, we report on different treatments that can be used to remove the toxicity of these plugs so they can be used in plant research.

Open Access

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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Of the many environmental variables, light intensity (PPF) has primary effect on photosynthesis and significantly influences crop yield. With the eventual use of a crop production system on the International Space Station (ISS), Mars transit vehicle, or in a lunar/Martian habitat, there exists certain engineering constraints that will likely affect the lighting intensity available to plants. Tomato and pepper are candidate crops being considered by NASA that were selected based on their applicability to such mission scenarios. To study the effects of lighting intensity, tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum L. cv. Red Robin) and pepper (Capsicum annuum L. cv. Hanging Basket) plants were grown under cool-white fluorescent (CWF) lamps with light intensities of 8.6, 17.2, or 26 mol·m-2 ·d-1, with a constant air temperature of 25 °C, 65% relative humidity, and CO2 supplementation of 1200 μmol·mol-1 in order to duplicate conditions plants might be subjected to in an open environment of a space cabin. Following 105 days of growth, edible and total mass for both tomato and pepper increased with increasing light levels. Fruit development and time to ripening was also affected by light treatments. The effects of lighting when combined with other environmental factors typical of spaceflight systems will help define crop production for future missions that incorporate plant-based life support technologies.

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Environmental factors such as light intensity (PPF) and/or air temperature may be limiting engineering constraints in near or long-term space missions. This will potentially affect NASA's ability to provide either dietary augmentation to the crew or maintain a large-scale bioregenerative life support system. Crops being considered by NASA to provide supplemental food for crew consumption during such missions consist primarily of minimally processed “salad” species. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Flandria), radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherry Bomb II), and green onion (Allium fistulosum L. cv. Kinka) are being evaluated under a range of PPF and temperature environments likely to be encountered in space systems. Plants were grown for 35 days under cool-white fluorescent (CWF) lamps with light intensities of 8.6, 17.2, or 26 μmol·m-2·d-1, at air temperatures of 25 and 28 °C, and 50% relative humidity, and 1200 μmol·mol-1 CO2. Regardless of temperature, all three species showed an increase in edible mass with increasing light levels. When grown at 28 °C, edible mass of radish was significantly reduced at all lighting intensities compared to 25 °C, indicating a lower optimal temperature for radish. Understanding the interactions of these environmental factors on crop performance is a critical element to defining future missions that incorporate plant-based life support technologies.

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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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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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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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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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