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Megan Ulmer, Regina Ali, Conrad Bonsi, Louis Jackai, and Bryon Sosinski

The sweetpotato weevil (SPW), Cylas formicarius, is the most devastating insect pest of sweetpotato worldwide. In the U.S., the devastation by this pest costs the sweetpotato industry several million dollars in crop loss and lost income each year. Many growers in highly infested areas have simply abandoned growing sweetpotatoes. The overall project goals are to elucidate the routes used for the spread of the SPW, and to determine the existence of intra-specific variation in the SPW population in the US and selected overseas countries. These results will lead to more effective and targeted management of the SPW. Results will also make quarantine enforcement more efficient. We are examining the highly conserved and phenotypically neutral rDNA sequences of both the 18S and ITS1 regions of the SPW genome as a way to determine the population structures and origins of SPW in the US. Here, the molecular genetic aspects of the project are outlined, and preliminary results are presented.

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Desmond Mortley, Conrad Bonsi, Philip Loretan, Walter Hill, and Carlton Morris

Greenhouse experiments were conducted to evaluate the effects of spacing within and between growth channels on the yield of `TI-1551 sweet potatoes grown hydroponically using the nutrient film technique (NFT). Spacings within channels were 12.7, 17.8 and 25.4 cm whereas between growth channels the spacings were 12.7, 25.4 and 38.1 cm. Vine cuttings (15 cm) placed in each channel (0.15×0.15×1.2 m) were supplied with a modified half-Hoagland solution and grown for 120 days. Storage root number, fresh and dry weights and foliage fresh and dry weights tended to increase as spacing between channels increased. Spacing of plants within channels had no significant effect on any sweet potato growth responses.

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Desmond Mortley, Conrad Bonsi, Philip Loretan, Walter Hill, and Edwin Martinez

Hydroponic experiments using the nutrient film technique (NFT) were conducted in environmental growth chambers to evaluate the response of two sweet potato cultivars, `Georgia Jet' and `TI-155', to two photoperiod and temperature regimes. Vine cuttings of these cultivars were planted in growth channels supplied with modified half-Hoagland nutrient solution using NFT. Plants were subjected to a 24 h photoperiod or a 12:12 h light:dark photoperiod, a constant temperature of 28C or light:dark temperature of 28/22C. Plants were exposed to irradiance levels of 400 umol m-2 s-1 at canopy level and 70% RH. Storage root fresh and dry weights were increased for both cultivars under the 24 h photoperiod at the 28C constant temperature. `Georgia Jet' storage root numbers were not affected by any treatment while those for `TI-155' were reduced under continuous light for both temperature regimes. Foliage fresh and dry weights were not affected by any treatment.

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Desmond Mortley, Jill Hill, Conrad Bonsi, Walter Hill, and Carlton Morris

Tuskegee University is conducting research on salad crops as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) goal of supporting humans on near-term space missions, such as on the International Space Station. Small areas of salad crops are ideal candidates for growing in limited volumes, and would provide a source of fresh food to enhance the crew's nutrition. Baseline controlled environment studies were initiated to evaluate the response of eight carrot cultivars (`Baby Mini', `Nantes Touchan', `Danvers 126', `Kundulus', `Nanco Hybrid', `Thumbelina', `Early Nantes', and `Juwarot') to growth and yield in hydroponics. Seeds were sown in moist arcillite and transplanted into growth troughs (0.15 × 0.15 × 1.2 m) after 18 days in reach-in growth chambers, and nutrients continuously supplied by a half-Hoagland solution. Growth chambers conditions included 300 μmol·m-2·s-1 photosynthetic photon flux, 16/8 photoperiod, a constant 25 °C and relative humidity of 50%. Plants were harvested at about 80 days. All eight cultivars grew well in the hydroponic system. Seven cultivars produced greater shoot fresh than root mass except `Baby Mini', which showed the reverse. `Danvers 126', followed by `Nanco Hybrid' and `Nantes Touchan', produced highest root yields. The β-carotene content varied by cultivars. The highest level of 10,400 IU/100 g was obtained for `Thumbelina', followed by `Baby Mini' (8040 IU/100 g), `Juwarot' (6160 IU/100g), and `Early Nantes' (5210 IU/100 g), and the lowest by `Nantes Touchan' (3510 IU/100 g). These results show that while carrots adapted well to growth in hydroponics, carotene, a major nutrient, was at relatively low levels.

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Edwin Martinez, Conrad Bonsi, Phili p Loretan, Walter Hill, Desmond Mortley, and Carlton Morris

Sweet potato, selected as a potential food source for future long-term manned space missions, is being evaluated for NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS) program. Greenhouse experiments were conducted to determine the effects of two pH treatments on the growth and storage root yield of `T1-155' and `Georgia Jet ' sweet potato cultivars. Vine cuttings of these cultivars were grown in a specially designed Tuskegee University NFT system. Plants were subjected to a continuous pH treatment in which the nutrient solution pH was maintained at 5.00 ± 0.10 throughout the growth period, and a periodic pH treatment in which the nutrient solution pH was adjusted to 6.00 at biweekly changeover intervals and when reservoirs were refilled with deionized water between biweekly changeovers. Results showed that for both cultivars the treatment with periodic pH adjustment had significantly higher storage root yield than treatment with continuous pH adjustment. This experiment is being repeated.

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Desmond G. Mortley, Douglas R. Hileman, Conrad K. Bonsi, Walter A. Hill, and Carlton E. Morris

Two sweetpotato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam] genotypes (TU-82-155 and NCC-58) were grown hydroponically and subjected to a temporary loss of lighting in the form of 14 days of prolonged darkness compared with a lighted control under standard daily light periods to determine the impact on growth responses and storage root yield. Vine cuttings of both genotypes were grown in rectangular channels. At 65 days after planting, lights were turned off in the treatment chambers and replaced by a single incandescent lamp, providing between 7 and 10 µmol·m−2·s−1 photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) for 18 hours, and the temperature lowered from 28/22 °C light/dark, to a constant 20 °C. Plants remained under these conditions for 14 days after which the original light level was restored. Growth chamber conditions predark included, a PPF mean provided by 400-W metal halide lamps, of 600 ± 25 µmol·m−2·s−1, an 18-hour light/6-hour dark cycle and a relative humidity of 70% ± 5%. The nutrient solution used was a modified half-Hoagland with pH and electrical conductivity (EC) maintained between 5.5–6.0 and 1000–1200 μS·cm−1, respectively, and was adjusted weekly. Storage root number and fresh weight were similar regardless of treatments. Plants exposed to prolonged darkness produced 10.5% and 25% lower fibrous root fresh and dry mass, respectively, but similar foliage yield and harvest index (HI). ‘NCC-58’ produced an average of 31% greater storage root yield than that of ‘TU-82-155’ but the number of storage roots as well as % dry matter (%DM) were similar. ‘NCC-58’ also produced 31% greater fibrous root dry weight, whereas ‘TU-82-155’ produced a 44% greater HI. The significant interaction between prolonged darkness and cultivars for %DM of the storage roots showed that DM for ‘TU-82-155’ was 18.4% under prolonged darkness and 17.9% in the light. That for ‘NCC-58’ was 16.4% under prolonged darkness compared with 19.4% (14.8% greater) for plants that were not subjected to prolonged darkness. The evidence that there were no adverse impacts on storage root yield following the exposure to prolonged darkness suggests that the detrimental effects were below the detectable limits for these cultivars in response to the short perturbation in the available light and that sweetpotatoes would be hardy under short-term failure situations.

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Desmond G. Mortley, Jun-Hyun Oh, Damicca S. Johnson, Conrad K. Bonsi, and Walter A. Hill

A greenhouse study was conducted to evaluate the influence of harvest intervals on biomass yield and omega fatty acids of ‘Golden purslane’ (Portulaca oleracea). Nutrients were supplied as a modified full-strength Hoagland solution two to three times weekly. Plants were harvested sequentially at 20, 40, and 60 days after transplanting (DAT) corresponding to 42, 63, and 84 days after sowing. Fatty acids were determined using a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. Harvest intervals significantly influenced foliage fresh and dry weight, leaf number and plant height, and root length and fresh weight and were greatest at 60 DAT. Fatty acid analysis verified the presence of myristate, palmitate, linoleate, and linolenate at 20 DAT and in all three harvests, whereas stearate and oleate were detected only in the last two harvests (40 and 60 DAT). Linoleate, palminate, and linolenate were the most abundant fatty acids in purslane with levels in excess of 300 mg·kg−1. Those for myristate, stearate, and oleate were in excess of 200 mg·kg−1. The ratio of omega-6/omega-3 ranged from 0.44 for Harvest 1 to 1.1 for Harvest 3, whereas ratios for harvest intervals two and three were equal to or greater than the recommended daily human requirement. Results showed qualitative and quantitative differences of harvest intervals of purslane, suggesting that an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can be achieved ≈20 DAT.

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Desmond G. Mortley, Stephanie Burrell, Conrad K. Bonsi, Walter A. Hill, and Carlton E. Morris

Growth chamber experiments were conducted to evaluate the effect of irradiance and daily light period on storage root yield and leaf elemental concentration of two sweetpotato cultivars grown hydroponically by use of the nutrient film technique (NFT). Stem cuttings (15 cm) of cv. Whatley/Loretan and Georgia Jet were grown in NFT channels (0.15 × 0.15 × 1.2 m) in reach-in growth chambers under light period/irradiance combinations of 18 h: 300 μmol·m−2·s−1 or 9 h: 600 μmol·m−2·s−1 photosynthetic photon flux. Temperature was 28/22 °C light/dark with a relative humidity of 70% ± 5%. Storage root and foliage yields were greater in both cultivars exposed to a longer daily light period and lower irradiance. The main effect of cultivar indicated that storage root yield was significantly greater among plants of ‘Whatley/Loretan’ compared with that of ‘Georgia Jet’, whereas foliage yield was similar between cultivars. Leaves of plants grown under longer daily light period and lower irradiance had significantly lower concentrations of all elements, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium, boron, and zinc, except for calcium, manganese, and boron. There were no significant differences in leaf elemental concentration between cultivars. Thus, a longer daily light and lower irradiance enhanced biomass production of sweetpotato but reduced leaf elemental concentration probably because of a “dilution” effect.

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Desmond G. Mortley, Conrad K. Bonsi, Walter A. Hill, Carlton E. Morris, Carol S. Williams, Ceyla F. Davis, John W. Williams, Lanfang H. Levine, Barbara V. Petersen, and Raymond M. Wheeler

Because sweetpotato [Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.] stem cuttings regenerate very easily and quickly, a study of their early growth and development in microgravity could be useful to an understanding of morphological changes that might occur under such conditions for crops that are propagated vegetatively. An experiment was conducted aboard a U.S. Space Shuttle to investigate the impact of microgravity on root growth, distribution of amyloplasts in the root cells, and on the concentration of soluble sugars and starch in the stems of sweetpotatoes. Twelve stem cuttings of ‘Whatley/Loretan’ sweetpotato (5 cm long) with three to four nodes were grown in each of two plant growth units filled with a nutrient agarose medium impregnated with a half-strength Hoagland solution. One plant growth unit was flown on Space Shuttle Columbia for 5 days, whereas the other remained on the ground as a control. The cuttings were received within 2 h postflight and, along with ground controls, processed in ≈45 min. Adventitious roots were counted, measured, and fixed for electron microscopy and stems frozen for starch and sugar assays. Air samples were collected from the headspace of each plant growth unit for postflight determination of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and ethylene levels. All stem cuttings produced adventitious roots and growth was quite vigorous in both ground-based and flight samples and, except for a slight browning of some root tips in the flight samples, all stem cuttings appeared normal. The roots on the flight cuttings tended to grow in random directions. Also, stem cuttings grown in microgravity had more roots and greater total root length than ground-based controls. Amyloplasts in root cap cells of ground-based controls were evenly sedimented toward one end compared with a more random distribution in the flight samples. The concentration of soluble sugars, glucose, fructose, and sucrose and total starch concentration were all substantially greater in the stems of flight samples than those found in the ground-based samples. Carbon dioxide levels were 50% greater and oxygen marginally lower in the flight plants, whereas ethylene levels were similar and averaged less than 10 nL·L−1. Despite the greater accumulation of carbohydrates in the stems, and greater root growth in the flight cuttings, overall results showed minimal differences in cell development between space flight and ground-based tissues. This suggests that the space flight environment did not adversely impact sweetpotato metabolism and that vegetative cuttings should be an acceptable approach for propagating sweetpotato plants for space applications.