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  • Author or Editor: Thomas W. Dreschel x
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A plant nutrient delivery system that uses a microporous, hydrophilic tube was developed with potential application for crop production in the microgravity of space. The tube contains a nutrient solution and delivers it to the roots. Pumps attached to the tubing create a very small suction that holds the solution within the tube. This system was used to grow wheat (Triticum aestivum cv. Yecora Rojo) for 107 days in a controlled environment at suctions of 0.40, 1.48, or 2.58 kPa. The water absorbed through the pores of the tube by baby diaper sections decreased as suction increased. Correspondingly, final plant biomass, seed number, and spikelet number also tended to decrease as suction increased. The reduced yield at higher suction suggests that the plants experienced water stress, although all suctions were below those typical of soils at field capacity.

Open Access

A ground-based comparison of plant nutrient delivery systems that have been developed for microgravity application was conducted for dwarf wheat (Triticum aestivum L. `Yecora Rojo') and rapid-cycling brassica (Brassica rapa L. CrGC#1-33) plants. These experiments offer insight into nutrient and oxygen delivery concerns for greenhouse crop production systems. The experiments were completed over a 12-day period to simulate a typical space shuttle-based spaceflight experiment. The plant materials, grown either using the porous-tube nutrient delivery system, the phenolic foam support system, or a solidified agar nutrient medium, were compared by plant-growth analysis, root zone morphological measurements, elemental composition analysis, and alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme activity assay. The results of these analyses indicate that the porous tube plant nutrient delivery and the phenolic foam systems maintain plant growth at a higher level than the solidified agar gel medium system. Root zone oxygenation problems associated with the agar system were manifested through biochemical and morphological responses. The porous tube nutrient delivery system outperformed the other two systems on the basis of plant growth analysis parameters and physiological indicators of root zone aeration. This information is applicable to the current crop production techniques used in greenhouse-controlled environments.

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A nutrient delivery system that may have applicability for growing plants in microgravity is described. The Vacuum-Operated Nutrient Delivery System (VONDS) draws nutrient solution across roots that are under a partial vacuum at ≈91 kPa. Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L. cv. Blue Lake 274) plants grown on the VONDS had consistently greater leaf area and higher root, stem, leaf, and pod dry weights than plants grown under nonvacuum control conditions. This study demonstrates the potential applicability of the VONDS for growing plants in microgravity for space biology experimentation and/or crop production.

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Orientation of root growth on earth and under microgravity conditions can possibly be controlled by hydrotropism-growth toward a moisture source in the absence of or reduced gravitropism. A porous-tube water delivery system being used for plant growth studies is appropriate for testing this hypothesis since roots can be grown aeroponically in this system. When the roots of the agravitropic mutant pea ageotropum (Pisum sativum L.) were placed vertically in air of 91% relative humidity and 2 to 3 mm from the water-saturated porous tube placed horizontally, the roots responded hydrotropically and grew in a continuous arch along the circular surface of the tube. By contrast, normal gravitropic roots of `Alaska' pea initially showed a slight transient curvature toward the tube and then resumed vertical downward growth due to gravitropism. Thus, in microgravity, normal gravitropic roots could respond to a moisture gradient as strongly as the agravitropic roots used in this study. Hydrotropism should be considered a significant factor responsible for orientation of root growth in microgravity.

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