Microgravity effects on thylakoid, single leaf, and whole canopy photosynthesis of dwarf wheat


The concept of using higher plants to maintain a sustainable life support system for humans during long-duration space missions is dependent upon photosynthesis. The effects of extended exposure to microgravity on the development and functioning of photosynthesis at the leaf and stand levels were examined onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The PESTO (Photosynthesis Experiment Systems Testing and Operations) experiment was the first long-term replicated test to obtain direct measurements of canopy photosynthesis from space under well-controlled conditions. The PESTO experiment consisted of a series of 21–24 day growth cycles of Triticum aestivum L. cv. USU Apogee onboard ISS. Single leaf measurements showed no differences in photosynthetic activity at the moderate (up to 600 μmol m−2 s−1) light levels, but reductions in whole chain electron transport, PSII, and PSI activities were measured under saturating light (>2,000  μmol m−2 s−1) and CO2 (4000 μmol mol−1) conditions in the microgravity-grown plants. Canopy level photosynthetic rates of plants developing in microgravity at ∼280 μmol m−2 s−1 were not different from ground controls. The wheat canopy had apparently adapted to the microgravity environment since the CO2 compensation (121 vs. 118 μmol mol−1) and PPF compensation (85 vs. 81 μmol m−2 s−1) of the flight and ground treatments were similar. The reduction in whole chain electron transport (13%), PSII (13%), and PSI (16%) activities observed under saturating light conditions suggests that microgravity-induced responses at the canopy level may occur at higher PPF intensity.

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Bioregenerative Life Support System


Biomass Production System


Biological Research in Canisters


Communication and Data System


Days After Imbibition


International Space Station


Kennedy Space Center


Liquid Nitrogen


National Aeronautics and Space Association


Orbiter Environment Simulator

Pnet :

Net Photosynthesis rate


Photosynthetically Active Radiation


Photosynthesis Experiment System Testing and Operation


Plant Growth Chamber


Photosynthetic Photon Flux


Photosystem I


Photosystem II


quantum yield


Space Transport System


Whole Chain Electron transport


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This research was funded in whole or in part by a grant from the Office of Biological and Physical Research of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of Lisa Ruffe, Jennifer Meyer, Sharon Edney for data collection and summarization. The authors also acknowledge the support of personnel at Orbitec (Madison, WI); Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA; Kennedy Space Center, FL; Johnson Space Center, TX; and Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL. Finally, the authors wish to express their gratitude to ISS Increment IV Flight Engineer Dan Bursch for his commitment to microgravity research.

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Stutte, G.W., Monje, O., Goins, G.D. et al. Microgravity effects on thylakoid, single leaf, and whole canopy photosynthesis of dwarf wheat. Planta 223, 46 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-005-0066-2

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  • Bioregeneration
  • Bioregenerative Life Support
  • Photosystem II
  • Photosystem I
  • Space
  • Triticum aestivum L