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Hypobaria and hypoxia affects phytochemical production, gas exchange, and growth of lettuce


Hypobaria (low total atmospheric pressure) is essential in sustainable, energy-efficient plant production systems for long-term space exploration and human habitation on the Moon and Mars. There are also critical engineering, safety, and materials handling advantages of growing plants under hypobaria, including reduced atmospheric leakage from extraterrestrial base environments. The potential for producing crops under hypobaria and manipulating hypoxia (low oxygen stress) to increase health-promoting bioactive compounds is not well characterized. Here we showed that hypobaric-grown lettuce plants (25 kPa ≈ 25% of normal pressure) exposed to hypoxia (6 kPa pO2 ≈ 29% of normal pO2) during the final 3 d of the production cycle had enhanced antioxidant activity, increased synthesis of anthocyananins, phenolics, and carotenoids without reduction of photosynthesis or plant biomass. Net photosynthetic rate (P N) was not affected by total pressure. However, 10 d of hypoxia reduced P N, dark respiration rate (R D), P N/R D ratio, and plant biomass. Growing plants under hypobaria and manipulating hypoxia during crop production to enhance health-promoting bioactive compounds is important for the health and well-being of astronauts exposed to space radiation and other stresses during long-term habitation.

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CA :

CO2 assimilation






dark-period respiration




low pressure plant growth system


antioxidant activity

P N :

net photosynthetic rate

P N/R D ratio:

net photosynthesis/dark respiration rate ratio

pO2 :

partial pressure of O2

R D :

dark respiration rate


reactive oxygen species


total soluble phenolics


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. T. Davies.

Additional information

Acknowledgements: We thank Tom Boutton, Ray Wheeler, and Mark Tjoelker for critical review of the manuscript. Supported in part by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through grants No. NAG-9-1067 (Plant Growth and Metabolism at Sub-Ambient Atmospheric Pressures), and No. NAJ04HF31G (Plant Growth at Sub-Ambient Atmospheric Pressures with Control of the Partial Pressures of Constituent Gases), and the Texas AgriLife Research.

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He, C., Jacobo-Velázquez, D.A., Cisneros-Zevallos, L. et al. Hypobaria and hypoxia affects phytochemical production, gas exchange, and growth of lettuce. Photosynthetica 51, 465–473 (2013).

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Additional key words

  • bioprotectants
  • carbon assimilation
  • chlorophyll content
  • dark respiration rate
  • Lactuca sativa
  • low pressure
  • oxygen radical absorbance capacity
  • phytochemicals