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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.