Although plants are envisioned to play a central role in life support systems for future long-duration space travel, plant growth in space has been problematic due to horticultural problems of nutrient delivery and gas resupply posed by the weightless environment. Iterative improvement in hardware designed for growth of plants on orbital platforms now provides confidence that plants can perform well in microgravity, enabling investigation of their nutritional characteristics. Plants of B. rapa (cv. Astroplants) were grown in the Biomass Production System on the International Space Station. Flowers were hand-pollinated and seeds were produced prior to harvest at 39 days after planting. The material was frozen or fixed while on orbit and subsequently analyzed in our laboratories. Gross measures of growth, leaf chlorophyll, starch and soluble carbohydrates confirmed comparable performance by the plants in spaceflight and ground control treatments. Analysis of glucosinolate production in the plant stems indicated that 3-butenylglucosinolate concentration was on average 75% greater in flight samples than in ground control samples. Similarly, the biochemical make-up of immature seeds produced during spaceflight and fixed or frozen while in orbit was significantly different from the ground controls. The immature seeds from the spaceflight treatment had higher concentrations of chlorophyll, starch, and soluble carbohydrates than the ground controls. Seed protein was significantly lower in the spaceflight material. Microscopy of immature seeds fixed in flight showed embryos to be at a range of developmental stages, while the ground control embryos had all reached the premature stage of development. Storage reserve deposition was more advanced in the ground control seeds. The spaceflight environment thus influences B. rapa metabolite production in ways that may affect flavor and nutritional quality of potential space produce.
Musgrave, M. E.; Kuang, Anxiu; Tuominen, L. K.; Levine, L. H.; and Morrow, R. C., "Seed Storage Reserves and Glucosinolates in Brassica rapa L. Grown on the International Space Station" (2005). Biology Faculty Publications and Presentations. 77.
Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science