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Raymond M. Wheeler, Barbara V. Peterson, and Gary W. Stutte

Ethylene production by 10 or 20 m2 stands of wheat, soybean, lettuce, potato, and tomato was monitored throughout growth and development in an atmospherically closed plant chamber. Chamber ethylene levels varied among species and rose during periods of canopy expansion and rapid growth for all species. Following this, ethylene levels either declined during seed fill and maturation for wheat and soybean, or remained relatively constant for potato and tomato (during flowering and early fruit development). Lettuce plants were harvested during rapid growth and peak ethylene production. Chamber ethylene levels increased rapidly during tomato ripening, reaching concentrations about 10 times that measured during vegetative growth. The highest ethylene production rates during vegetative growth ranged from 1.6 to 2.5 nmol·m-2·d-1 during rapid growth of lettuce and wheat stands, or about 0.3 to 0.5 nmol·g-1 fresh weight per hour. Estimates of stand ethylene production during tomato ripening showed that rates reached 43 nmol·m-2·d-1 in one study and 93 nmol·m-2·d-1 in a second study with higher lighting, or about 50× that of the rate during vegetative growth of tomato. In a related test with potato, the photoperiod was extended from 12 to 24 hours (continuous light) at 58 days after planting (to increase tuber yield), but this change in the environment caused a sharp increase in ethylene production from the basal rate of 0.4 to 6.2 nmol·m-2·d-1. Following this, the photoperiod was changed back to 12 h at 61 days and ethylene levels decreased. The results suggest three separate categories of ethylene production were observed with whole stands of plants: 1) production during rapid vegetative growth, 2) production during climacteric fruit ripening, and 3) production from environmental stress.

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Kenneth A. Corey, Phil A. Fowler, and Raymond M. Wheeler

Reduced atmospheric pressures may be used to minimize mass and engineering requirements for plant growth habitats used in some extraterrestrial applications. A chamber with high vacuum capability and thermal control at Kennedy Space Center was used to measure water loss of lettuce plants at reduced atmospheric pressures. A test stand with three, high-pressure sodium vapor lamps was used to determine short-term plant responses to reduced pressure. Initial experiments with lettuce showed that a pressure of 10 kPa (≈0.1 atm) resulted in a 6.1-fold increase in the rate of water loss compared to water loss at ambient pressure. However, due to low relative humidity, plants wilted after 30 minutes exposure to 10 kPa. A follow-up experiment in which relative humidity was controlled between 70% and 85%, demonstrated that water loss was directly proportional to the vapor pressure gradient, regardless of atmospheric pressure in the pressure range of 10 to 101 kPa. However, the response was curvilinear, suggesting effects on the pathway resistance. Results indicate that plant growth at atmospheric pressures of 5 to 10 kPa should be achievable. Further work will necessitate better relative humidity control and carbon dioxide control in order to separate vapor pressure deficit effects from diffusion effects.

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Gregory D. Goins, Neil C. Yorio, and Raymond M. Wheeler

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been conducting controlled environment research with potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.) in recirculating nutrient film technique (NFT)-hydroponic systems as a human life support component during long-duration spaceflight. Standard nutrient solution management approaches include constant pH regulation with nitric acid (HNO3) and daily adjustment of electrical conductivity (EC) equivalent to half-strength modified Hoagland's solution, where nitrate (NO3-) is the sole nitrogen (N) source. Although tuber yields have been excellent with such an approach, N use efficiency indices are expected to be low relative to tuber biomass production. Furthermore, the high amount of N used in NFT-hydroponics, typically results in high inedible biomass, which conflicts with the need to minimize system mass, volume, and expenditure of resources for long-duration missions. More effective strategies of N fertilization need to be developed to more closely match N supply with demand of the crop. Hence, the primary objective of this study was to identify the optimal N management regime and plant N requirement to achieve high yields and to avoid inefficient use of N and excess inedible biomass production. In separate 84-day cropping experiments, three N management protocols were tested. Treatments which decreased NO3 --N supply indirectly through lowering nutrient solution EC (Expt. I), or disabling pH control, and/or supplying NH4 +-N (Expt. III) did not significantly benefit tuber yield, but did influence N use efficiency indices. When supplied with an external 7.5 mm NO-3 --N for the first 42 days after planting (DAP), lowered to 1.0 mm NO3 -N during the final 42 days (Expt. II), plants were able to achieve yields on par with plants which received constant 7.5 mm NO3 --N (control). By abruptly decreasing N supply at tuber initiation in Expt. II, less N was taken up and accumulated by plants compared to those which received high constant N (control). However, proportionately more plant accumulated N was used (N use efficiency) to produce tuber biomass when N supply was abruptly lowered at tuber initiation in Expt. II. Hence, a hydroponic nutrient solution N management system may be modified to elicit greater plant N-use while maintaining overall high tuber yield as opposed to achieving high tuber yields through excess N supply and shoot growth.

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Gary W. Stutte, Neil C. Yorio, and Raymond M. Wheeler

The effect of photoperiod (PP) on net carbon assimilation rate (Anet) and starch accumulation in newly mature canopy leaves of `Norland' potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) was determined under high (412 ∝mol·m-2·s-1) and low (263 ∝mol·m-2·s-1) photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) conditions. The Anet decreased from 13.9 to 11.6 and 9.3 μmol·m-2·s-1, and leaf starch increased from 70 to 129 and 118 mg·g-1 drymass (DM) as photoperiod (PP) was increased from 12/12 to 18/6, and 24/0, respectively. Longer PP had a greater effect with high PPF conditions than with low PPF treatments, with high PPF showing greater decline in Anet. Photoperiod did not affect either the CO2 compensation point (50 μmol·mol-1) or CO2 saturation point (1100-1200 μmol·mol-1) for Anet. These results show an apparent limit to the amount of starch that can be stored (≈15% DM) in potato leaves. An apparent feedback mechanism exists for regulating Anet under high PPF, high CO2, and long PP, but there was no correlation between Anet and starch concentration in individual leaves. This suggests that maximum Anet cannot be sustained with elevated CO2 conditions under long PP (≥12 hours) and high PPF conditions. If a physiological limit exists for the fixation and transport of carbon, then increasing photoperiod and light intensity under high CO2 conditions is not the most appropriate means to maximize the yield of potatoes.

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Neil C. Yorio, Gregory D. Goins, Hollie R. Kagie, Raymond M. Wheeler, and John C. Sager

Radish (Raphanus sativus L. cv. Cherriette), lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. Waldmann's Green), and spinach (Spinacea oleracea L. cv. Nordic IV) plants were grown under 660-nm red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and were compared at equal photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) with either plants grown under cool-white fluorescent lamps (CWF) or red LEDs supplemented with 10% (30 μmol·m-2·s-1) blue light (400-500 nm) from blue fluorescent (BF) lamps. At 21 days after planting (DAP), leaf photosynthetic rates and stomatal conductance were greater for plants grown under CWF light than for those grown under red LEDs, with or without supplemental blue light. At harvest (21 DAP), total dry-weight accumulation was significantly lower for all species tested when grown under red LEDs alone than when grown under CWF light or red LEDs + 10% BF light. Moreover, total dry weight for radish and spinach was significantly lower under red LEDs + 10% BF than under CWF light, suggesting that addition of blue light to the red LEDs was still insufficient for achieving maximal growth for these crops.

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Guntur V. Subbarao, Raymond M. Wheeler, L.H. Levine, and Gary W. Stutte

Accumulation of glycinebetaine occurs in Chenopodiaceae members and is thought to assist in osmotic adjustment and protect cytoplasm from sodium toxicity. Red beet has an ability to tolerate high tissue sodium levels, which may result in increased glycinebetaine production. To test this hypothesis, two cultivars of red beet ['Scarlet Supreme' (SS) and `Ruby Queen' (RQ)] were grown under nonsaline (4.75 mM Na) and saline (54.75 mM Na) conditions in a recirculating hydroponic system for 42 days at elevated CO2 (1200 μmol•mol-1) in a growth chamber. Leaf glycinebetaine level, relative water content, and osmotic potential were measured at weekly intervals. Leaf glycinebetaine levels increased with plant age and reached a maximum of 67 μmol•g-1 dw under nonsaline and 101 μmol•g-1 dry weight (dw) under saline conditions at 42 days in SS; in RQ, the glycinebetaine levels reached a maximum of 91 μmol•g-1 dw under nonsaline and 121 μmol•g-1 dw under saline conditions by 26 days. The mean glycinebetaine levels were increased over two-thirds under saline conditions in both the cultivars. RQ accumulated significantly higher (37% more under nonsaline, and 46% more under salinity) glycinebetaine than SS. The turgid leaf osmotic potential of RQ was consistently higher than SS under nonsaline (2.23 MPa in RQ vs. 1.82 MPa in SS) and saline (2.48 MPa in RQ vs. 2.02 MPa in SS) conditions. The results indicate that higher glycinebetaine levels in the leaf could result in better osmotic adjustment, and glycinebetaine accumulation in red beet can vary among cultivars and is strongly affected by external salinity.

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

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

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.