Mustard greens are widely grown and consumed in the Deep South, but a grant from NASA will soon have Alabama State University's (ASU) greens growing and eaten on the U.S. Space Station.
The grant was awarded to ASU's Dr. Komal Vig, professor of Microbiology, and part of a $100,000 NASA grant titled “Improved Drought Tolerance of Mustard Greens with Atmospheric Pressure Plasma” that will allow her and ASU microbiology student-interns to prepare mustard greens in a University laboratory with the goal for them to be grown in the arid confines of the Space Station with little or no water.
"Our main goal is for ASU to perfect a method in the University laboratory that will allow us to grow drought-resistant mustard greens on the Space Station," Vig said from her campus office. "With limited or no water being expended to grow the greens, we are perfecting a method to irrigate them with a special plasma that we are now perfecting in the lab - with the help from our student interns - which is composed of a combination of many things that include the Noble gases of argon and helium. This project aims to study drought stress using ‘Amara’ mustard greens and if and how treatment with atmospheric pressure plasma can improve the plant’s drought tolerance and nutritional load," stated Vig.
This project will be a collaboration among investigators at Alabama State University (ASU), University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and Alabama A&M University (AAMU). The team combines expertise and lab capabilities in microbiology and genetics (ASU), plasma science and technology (UAH), and agriculture (AAMU).
NASA scientists explained that water is used for multiple purposes in a 'crewed' space mission, including drinking, cleaning, food preparation, and oxygen production for respiration and rocket fuel. Because of a high demand for water in so many instances, and the desire for its crew to have fresh vegetables for consumption that are grown on the Space Station, this experiment was born.
NASA data explains that, as it advances human space exploration, crop plants will play an important role in a sustained human presence in space, on the moon, and on Mars. Crop plants such as leafy greens and fresh vegetables, provide nutrients, varied texture, flavor, and contribute to an astronauts’ mental health.
"Growing plants in the engineered environment of space habitats can introduce multiple abiotic stresses that can impact the plant’s growth and nutritional value. The grant's goal is to grow them with little or no traditional moisture, yet still with a good level of nutritional value," stated NASA officials.
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