A research team at the NASA/Kennedy Space Center lead by Dynamac Corporation
has been issued a patent on a process for producing a vegetative and tuber
growth regulator based on a Tuber Induction Factor (TIF) growth hormone that
regulates growth in potato tubers. (Potato tubers are the buds from which
new plant shoots arise.)

Dynamac’s Dr. Gary Stutte, a plant scientist, and Neil Yorio, a research
scientist, both in the Advanced Life Support and Gravitational Biology
office at KSC, studied several generations of a redskin variety of potato
under laboratory conditions to determine their candidacy for growth and
consumption in space. The research tracked the growth rate, energy and
space consumption, and crop yield of the potatoes.

“The use of a tuber growth regulator could increase seed potato production
by 15 to 20 percent, and decrease the time to harvest by 20 percent,” stated
Stutte. “This process could be used for long-duration missions, such as a
mission to Mars. The goal is to learn how to manage this natural compound
efficiently and use it effectively to get less volume and more mass, reduce
the cost for water and resources, and reduce the growth cycle.”

During the study, potato plants were grown hydroponically in a specially
lighted and temperature-controlled plant growth chamber called the Biomass
Production Chamber. The leafy green vegetation was exposed to light on top,
while the roots remained under a cover in special trays containing a
solution of water and nutrients necessary for growth. The “underground”
stems, called stolons, developed small seed tubers that developed into
potatoes and were harvested. Several generations of potatoes have grown over
in this research chamber and the result is disease- and pesticide-free
potatoes harvested almost every 21 days.

Dr. Raymond Wheeler, a NASA plant physiologist who is working closely with
Dynamac on the study explained, “The more we can understand the influence of
growth regulating factors, such as the TIF, the better we can manage the
systems for life support applications.

“We have to ask ourselves questions regarding what the life support options
are and what they will cost. One of the real driving factors is what the
energy requirements will be for lighting. In our present studies with
potatoes our goal is to try and gain the most efficient use of space and

During the research, the potatoes were harvested, and the fluid used in the
first growth was retained and reused for subsequent generations of potatoes.
The research team found that the next generation of plants developed tubers
faster because of the TIF, and produced less leafy vegetation. A 21-day
cycle in the first generation became, in essence, a cycle representing 42
days of growth in the next generation.

According to Stutte, the growth regulator could also be used here on Earth
to produce certified virus-free potato seed stock that could be planted
directly using commercial seeding equipment.