Our central hypothesis is that real-time data collected on the phytohormone levels in plants can be used to determine the fundamental ways plants interact with microclimatic conditions associated with living in space. The expected deliverables of this research are the development of technology and a dataset that could then be used to monitor plant responses and identify the most productive growing conditions in space. In this regard, we have made the following progress and accomplishments during the reporting period.
We have developed a three-electrode based electrochemical sensor for salicylic acid detection in plant sap. The sensor design is devised considering that cowpea possesses a dicot stem, leading to the arrangement of vascular bundles along the periphery. Also, the diameter of cowpea plants ranges from 5mm to 10mm. Consequently, the active region of the sensor penetrates through the vascular bundle, leaving the remaining portion accessible for signal acquisition. The sensor was characterized for different concentrations of salicylic acid (SA) typically found in small plants. Like animals, plants produce hormones as signaling molecules to control various growth processes. Salicylic acid (SA) and abscisic acid (ABA) are two primary stress hormones in plants. Progressive variations in their levels have been reported in many drought, salt, and cold/heat-stressed plants.
The sensor was calibrated with different SA concentrations. Multiple sensors were calibrated and all of them demonstrated similar responses, therefore confirming their repeatability. The sensor was tested for potential cross-interference from other hormones that are typically present in the sap. The results show that the sensor exhibits minimal response to interfering hormones, when compared to even a very low concentration of SA. We also conducted experiments to assess the reproducibility and longevity of the sensor. The sensor demonstrated reproducible response for up to 3 days. Beyond this period, the sensor’s performance began to decline, a phenomenon attributed to the degradation of the immunoassay. To overcome this challenge, our subsequent efforts will focus on substituting the assay with a more durable assay to prolong the sensor’s functional lifespan.
We tested the growth facilities at Texas A&M University and tested the growth of cowpea under controlled growth chamber conditions in coir pith, two types of hydroponic solutions, and a mixture of peat and perlite. We observed that plants grown in hydroponics had the highest stomatal conductance and transpiration, which indicates high water use. The experiments involving the sensors under two CO2 levels and temperature conditions will commence in February 2024.
Our immediate research plan includes the following:
• replace the current immunoassay with a more durable assay to prolong the sensor’s functional lifespan
• develop and optimize an abscisic acid sensor alongside the SA sensor
• test the hormone sensors in cowpea plants under the effects of growth medium and elevated CO2 and temperature levels. These tests to identify the correlations between hormonal variations and plant physiological responses will commence in February 2024. This experiment will use cowpea as the test plant due to its ultra-short duration life cycle and versatility of use. Plants will be grown in a super lightweight media of coir pith and compared against hydroponics and regular potting mix, which will be used as a control.
The sensors will be deployed 20 days after plant germination and plant performance will be monitored. Plants will be grown under ambient CO2 conditions and elevated CO2 conditions in growth chambers located at Texas A&M University. NASA facilities will not be used for the plant growth experiments.