Comparative floral development of Mir-grown and ethylene-treated, earth-grown Super Dwarf wheat

J Plant Physiol. 2001 Aug;158(8):1051-60. doi: 10.1078/S0176-1617(04)70129-7.


To study plant growth in microgravity, we grew Super Dwarf wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in the Svet growth chamber onboard the orbiting Russian space station, Mir, and in identical ground control units at the Institute of BioMedical Problems in Moscow, Russia. Seedling emergence was 56% and 73% in the two root-module compartments on Mir and 75% and 90% on earth. Growth was vigorous (produced ca. 1 kg dry mass), and individual plants produced 5 to 8 tillers on Mir compared with 3 to 5 on earth-grown controls. Upon harvest in space and return to earth, however, all inflorescences of the flight-grown plants were sterile. To ascertain if Super Dwarf wheat responded to the 1.1 to 1.7 micromoles mol-1 atmospheric levels of ethylene measured on the Mir prior to and during flowering, plants on earth were exposed to 0, 1, 3, 10, and 20 micromoles mol-1 of ethylene gas and 1200 micromoles mol-1 CO2 from 7 d after emergence to maturity. As in our Mir wheat, plant height, awn length, and the flag leaf were significantly shorter in the ethylene-exposed plants than in controls; inflorescences also exhibited 100% sterility. Scanning-electron-microscopic (SEM) examination of florets from Mir-grown and ethylene-treated, earth-grown plants showed that development ceased prior to anthesis, and the anthers did not dehisce. Laser scanning confocal microscopic (LSCM) examination of pollen grains from Mir and ethylene-treated plants on earth exhibited zero, one, and occasionally two, but rarely three nuclei; pollen produced in the absence of ethylene was always trinucleate, the normal condition. The scarcity of trinucleate pollen, abrupt cessation of floret development prior to anthesis, and excess tillering in wheat plants on Mir and in ethylene-containing atmospheres on earth build a strong case for the ethylene on Mir as the agent for the induced male sterility and other symptoms, rather than microgravity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Ethylenes / pharmacology*
  • Germination / drug effects
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Plant Growth Regulators / pharmacology*
  • Pollen / drug effects
  • Pollen / growth & development
  • Seeds / drug effects
  • Seeds / growth & development
  • Space Flight*
  • Triticum / drug effects*
  • Triticum / growth & development*
  • Weightlessness*


  • Ethylenes
  • Plant Growth Regulators
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • ethylene