Soybean cultivation for Bioregenerative Life Support Systems (BLSSs): The effect of hydroponic system and nitrogen source
Soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] is one of the plant species selected within the European Space Agency (ESA) Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELiSSA) project for hydroponic cultivation in Biological Life Support Systems (BLSSs), because of the high nutritional value of seeds. Root symbiosis of soybean with Bradirhizobium japonicum contributes to plant nutrition in soil, providing ammonium through the bacterial fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of two hydroponic systems, Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and cultivation on rockwool, and two nitrogen sources in the nutrient solution, nitrate (as Ca(NO3)2 and KNO3) and urea (CO(NH2)2), on root symbiosis, plant growth and seeds production of soybean. Plants of cultivar 'OT8914', inoculated with B. japonicum strain BUS-2, were grown in a growth chamber, under controlled environmental conditions. Cultivation on rockwool positively influenced root nodulation and plant growth and yield, without affecting the proximate composition of seeds, compared to NFT. Urea as the sole source of N drastically reduced the seed production and the harvest index of soybean plants, presumably because of ammonium toxicity, even though it enhanced root nodulation and increased the N content of seeds. In the view of large-scale cultivation for space colony on planetary surfaces, the possibility to use porous media, prepared using in situ resources, should be investigated. Urea can be included in the nutrient formulation for soybean in order to promote bacterial activity, however a proper ammonium/nitrate ratio should be maintained.