Growth and photosynthetic responses of Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa L. cv. Tokyo Bekana) to continuously elevated carbon dioxide in a simulated Space Station “Veggie” crop-production environment

Author: Burgner, Samuel E.; Nemali, Krishna; Massa, Gioia D.; Wheeler, Raymond M.; Morrow, Robert C.; Mitchell, Cary A.

Description: Among candidate leafy vegetable species initially considered for astronauts to pick and eat from the Veggie plant-growth unit on the International Space Station (ISS), Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa L. cv. Tokyo Bekana) ranked high in ground-based screening studies. However, subsequent attempts to optimize growth within rigorous ISS-like growth environments on the ground were frustrated by development of leaf chlorosis, necrosis, and uneven growth. ‘Tokyo Bekana’ (‘TB’) grown on ISS during the VEG-03B and C flights developed similar stress symptoms. After lengthy troubleshooting efforts to identify causes of sub-par growth in highly controlled environments, the super-elevated CO2 concentrations that plants on ISS are exposed to continuously (average of 2,800 µmol/mol) emerged as a candidate environmental condition responsible for the observed plant-stress symptoms. Subsequent ground-based studies found continuous exposure to ISS levels of CO2 under Veggie environmental and cultural conditions to significantly inhibit growth of ‘TB’ compared to near-Earth-normal CO2 controls. The present study investigated growth and gas-exchange responses of ‘TB’ to sub-ISS but still elevated CO2 levels (900 or 1,350 µmol/mol) in combination with other potential stressors related to ISS/Veggie compared to 450 µmol/mol CO2 controls. Shoot dry mass of plants grown at 450 µmol x mol-1 CO2 for 28 days was 96% and 80% higher than that of plants grown at 900 µmol x mol-1 CO2 and 1,350 µmol x mol-1 CO2, respectively. Leaf number and leaf area of controls were significantly higher than those of plants grown at 1,350 µmol x mol-1 CO2. Photosynthetic rate measured using a leaf cuvette was significantly lower for plants grown at 900 µmol x mol-1 CO2 than for controls. The ratio of leaf internal CO2 concentration (Ci) to cuvette ambient CO2 concentration (Ca) was significantly lower for plants grown at 450 µmol x mol-1 CO2 than for plants grown at elevated CO2. Thus, continuously elevated CO2 in combination with a Veggie cultivation system decreased growth, leaf area, and photosynthetic efficiency of Chinese cabbage ‘Tokyo Bekana’. The results of this study suggest that ‘Tokyo Bekana’ is very sensitive to continuously elevated CO2 in such a growth environment, and indicate the need for improved environmental control of CO2 and possibly root-zone factors for successful crop production in the ISS spaceflight environment. Differential sensitivity of other salad crops to an ISS/Veggie growth environment also is possible, so it is important to mimic controllable ISS-like environmental conditions as precisely as possible during ground-based screening.

Subject headings: Brassica rapa; Carbon Dioxide; China; Crop Production; Photosynthesis; Plant Leaves; Tokyo; Brassica; CO2; Chlorosis; ISS; Photosynthesis

Publication year: 2020

Journal or Book title: Life Sciences in Space Research

Volume: 27

Pages: 83-88

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Serial number: 3737

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