Development and growth of potato tubers in microgravity

Academic Article


  • A potato explant consisting of a leaf, its axillary bud, and a small segment of stem will develop a tuber in 10-14 days when grown on earth. The tubers develop from the axillary buds and accumulate starch derived from sugars produced through photosynthesis and/or mobilized from leaf tissue. Potato explants were harvested and maintained in the Astrocultureā„¢ unit, a plant growth chamber designed for spaceflight. The unit provides an environment with controlled temperature, humidity, CO 2 level, light intensity, and a nutrient delivery system. The hardware was loaded onto the space shuttle Columbia 24 hours prior to the launch of the STS-73 mission. Explant leaf tissue appeared turgid and green for the first 11 days of flight, but then became chlorotic and eventually necrotic by the end of the mission. The same events occurred to ground control explants with approximately the same timing. At the end of the 16-day mission, tubers were present on each explant. The size and shape of the space-grown tubers were similar to the ground-control tubers. The arrangement of cells in the tuber interior and at the exterior in the periderm was similar in both environments. Starch and protein were present in the tubers grown in space and on the ground. The range in starch grain size was similar in tubers from both environments, but the distribution of grains into size classes differed somewhat, with the space-grown tubers having more small grains than the ground control tubers. Proteinaceous crystals were found in tubers formed in each condition. Ā© 1998 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Cook ME; Croxdale JL; Tibbitts TW; Goins G; Brown CS; Wheeler RM
  • Start Page

  • 1103
  • End Page

  • 1110
  • Volume

  • 21
  • Issue

  • 8-9