Libmonster ID: RU-17284

by Maxim RACHENKO, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), Chief of the Experimental Artificial Climate Station "Phytotron", Tatyana KULAKOVA, employee of the tropical plants greenhouse, Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Chemistry, RAS SB (Irkutsk)

The Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Chemistry, RAS SB (set up in 1961) is one of the leading national research centers specializing in plant physiology, molecular biology, and ecology of plant organisms. It was there that in 1969 the first national phytotron, an artificial climate station designed to study effects produced by environmental factors on plant organisms, was installed. Intended as a tool of common use, the station has significantly expanded experimental capacities of the institute laboratories and turned out to be the main support in implementation of exploratory studies by specialists of different scientific institutions under the Ail-Union Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Irkutsk State University, Institute of Agriculture, scientific center, and scientists from Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Yakutsk, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Mongolia.

FROM THE HISTORY OF WINTER GARDENS

Before speaking about the unique complex of stationary chambers in Irkutsk enabling scientists to simulate various climates and develop state-of-the-art technologies in greenhouses, let's turn to the history of indoor and tub plants. Everything began in the Ancient Egypt. On picturesque images, which are 3,000 years old, one can see small trees and bushes in stone vases and boxes. The winter garden of flowers (roses, violets, lilies) and grasses, decorated with statutes and encircled by a colonnade, was an integral element of a rich patrician house.

The art of bonsai ("grown in a tray" in Japanese) counts some thousands of years; it originated in China and became a frequent practice in Japan.

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In the 16th century, bitter-orange greenhouses intended to grow citrus plants became popular in Europe. In the late 18th-early 19th centuries, the custom of growing of orange and lemon trees gave way to cultivation of tropical plants brought from remote countries by sailors and travelers. It was a difficult task: enthusiasts knew almost nothing about countries of origin of these plants, let alone their growing conditions.

In the 19th century, the situation changed after the Englishman Nathaniel Word, a collector of rare plant species, in 1829 invented a device of seemingly little importance. He noticed that his favorite plants slowed down growing due to the London smog and dust. He then decided to cover the plants with a glass box, arranged ventilation and watering. This device, named "Word's box", quickly gained popularity. The boxes were further improved: there appeared glass roofs and greenhouses attached to residential buildings. Step by step, these structures began to occupy one of the main places at the estate. In addition to plants, the place was adorned with sculptures, pictures, chill-out areas, artificial waterfalls and grottoes. Such gardens became a standard practice in Europe in the second half of the 20th century expanding living space of the house by way of translucent glass structures.

The fashion of glass structures penetrated the Russian province, including the outskirts of Siberia. There is a documentary evidence that one of the most successful gold prospectors of that time merchant Gavrila Masharov from the town of Kansk (Krasnoyarsk Territory) in 1836 "already lived in the taiga in a big house with attached glass galleries, roofed passageways, and a pine-apple greenhouse". There were also people in Irkutsk who took a fancy to grow and enjoy the "American fruit". As it appears from documents, in due time the famous Decembrist Sergei Trubetskoi acquired pineapple greenhouses from the Governor of Irkutsk Ivan Seidler (1777-1853).

ARTIFICIAL ECOSYSTEMS

Artificial climate stations (phytotrons*) designed to carry our scientific research were first assembled in 1949 in California (USA). The first similar station was built in our country at the Moscow Institute of Plant Physiology named after K. Timiryazev, the USSR AS (1949-1957). Later on, such station was installed at the department of biology of the Moscow State University. In the 1960s, the experimental station was arranged at the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Chemistry, USSR AS SB.

Arkady Korovin, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), and Vladimir Kurets, certified engineer, afterwards Dr. Sc. (Biol.), stood at the sources of phytotron (1959-1961). The latter was a chief designer of an artificial climate station. Before Irkutsk, both scientists worked at the USSR Academy of Sciences Karelian Branch Institute of Biology. In a close cooperation with biologists, Vladimir Kurets developed thermal greenhouses and devices to study the effect of low-temperature soils on mineral nutrition of plants and the effect of summer frosts on their productivity and resistance. Through the ef-

*Phytotron (from Greek phyton-a plant and thronos-location)-a chamber or a complex of chambers to grow plants in the controllable artificial environment.-Ed.

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forts taken by Kurets, the Agrobiological Station was equipped with the than modern artificial climate units. The gifted engineer, he together with Korovin formulated principles of organization of studies connected with the effect of extreme environmental factors on the plants grown in artificial conditions. A special report delivered at the USSR AS SB impressed the Siberians. It was not by chance that in 1963 Vladimir Kurets and Arkady Korovin were invited to design a phytotron in Irkutsk. The station was built using only serial national devices in 1969.

Biologists used the artificial climate station with the area of almost 3,000 m2 for many years; after a multistage overhaul it was transformed into the main experimental plant of the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Chemistry. It has been designed to maintain controllable lighting, humidity and temperature conditions, thus enabling scientists to work with experimental, including transgenic plants, all year round.

The phytotron has two 2.7x2.7x2.5 m chambers, equipped as plant cultivation rooms: they are furnished with daylight lamps of different power and air conditioners. There are also experimental mini-greenhouses with natural lighting, additional lamps, and a big greenhouse with supporting lighting and hydroponic units.

In 2011, the station was upgraded with modern equipment: 16 mobile chambers manufactured by BINDER (Germany) are controlled by original software. Plant cultivation rooms with the capacity from 240 to 720 liters are able to maintain the temperature from 0 up to +70 °C without lighting and from +5 to +60 °C with 100 percent lighting intensity. The experimental chambers of 240 liters operate in the temperature from -70 to +180°C.

In addition, there are two climate chambers designed by CLF PlantClimatics (Germany) aimed to develop new therapies on the basis of state-of-the-art biotechnological methods for cultivation of plants, mushrooms and microorganisms, studies of genetic and physiological-biochemical mechanisms of growth and stability of plants, studies of plant-microbe interactions in terms of biotic and abiotic stresses, genetic control of functions of intracellular structures, selection, creation of quickly growing plants by way of methods of genetic engineering.

The station makes it possible to study physiological and biochemical reactions of transgenic plants, including soft wheat, bred at the Plant Master climate chamber under the set lighting, air humidity and temperature parameters. The chamber is spacious enough to grow concurrently up to 40-45 lines of cereals and carry out experiments irrespective of the season.

Specialists of the institute carry out experiments intended to select highly stable varieties and forms of fruit trees and bushes to be cultivated in Siberia, proceeding from their frost and winter resistance. Speaking

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of perennial bushes, the main problem here is a long period between getting hybrid seeds and the first crop allowing to carry on initial assessment of received fruits. Plant cultivation chambers reduce the selection period twofold: you can get the first crop in two-three years and, accordingly, assess obtained results.

Employees of our institute are working in cooperation with academic scientists. Experts and students study problems of winter injuries of seed, stone and soft fruit cultures and develop methods of efficient use of the closed soil in severe conditions of the Baikal Region.

TROPICS IN SIBERIA

The greenhouse of the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, RAS SB, was arranged in the 1970s by the well-known local dendrologist Antonina Telpukhovskaya. She actively promoted gardening of Academgorodok with wood species unusual for that time-blue spruces, lindens, Ussuri pear trees, and decorative bushes. The all-year-round green oasis in our latitudes, located in the climatic zone characterized by a long winter and off-season period turned out to be a bright event, an urban and regional object of note. Since 2013, this unique green corner has become a part of the phytotron.

The area of the greenhouse is 561 m2. It took some years to form the plant collection. Most of the large plants that have survived till our days were planted in the first years of development of the artificial ecosystem. The staff members brought plant material from the botanical gardens of various Russian cities. That time, every profile institution considered it an honor to offer plant cuttings for the Siberian greenhouse. Employees of the institute carefully delivered them to Irkutsk and planted in the earth.

Today, about 400 varieties of heat-loving plants are growing under the glass roof. Most of them are from Africa, South-Eastern Asia, and Australia. In our climate they can survive only in artificial environment with all-the-year-round above-zero temperature and necessary humidity level. The heating system along the perimeter and in the soil maintains the required temperature. Even when the outside temperature is -30 °C, it is still above zero in the greenhouse. Humidity level is maintained through a small reservoir in the center of the complex.

Visitors of the greenhouse are offered a beautiful collection of different species of roses. In winter this regal flower is "sleeping" to show itself in all its glory the next year. The first buds start emerging in late February and begins flowering which lasts till November or December. Weaving roses, classical tea roses, cluster-flowered roses, small-flowered roses, classical English roses and other varieties, all under one roof, attract visitors with diversity of smells and colors. Wintering roses which can withstand even -40 °C temperatures are most popular among the Siberians.

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It was a hard task to form the tropical collection: in the 1970s plants from Holland or China were a rarity. They were brought from other cities, exchanged with Moscow and St. Petersburg greenhouses, some of them were brought from the Far East.

Bamboo, one of the oldest plants in the collection, is notable for durability and rapid growth in the first weeks of development. The collection of cacti has been enriched since the first days of the greenhouse: we are proud of opuntia used to produce wine and agave used

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to produce tequila-a strong spirit made mainly in the neighborhood of the town of Tequila in the west of the Mexican state Halisco.

Citrus cultures play a special part in our greenhouse. We are proud of Irkutsk lemons grown by the local plant-breeder Vladimir Borishchuk. The tree is not tall, its leaves are big and coriaceous. It blossoms twice a year-in spring and autumn-and bears fruit on the second year. Lemons are big, ~700 g, sometimes even 1.5 kg, and are characterized by an increased concentration of vitamin C. The peel is of average thickness, slightly grumous. Budda's hand is another unique plant in our greenhouse. It differs from standard lemons and oranges by its strange form, resembling man's hand. It was a mere chance that this plant appeared in the greenhouse. It was brought there almost dried up to be cured. First specialists took it for a common lemon but in the end after treatment they got a new unique plant. The collection also incorporates small hybrid bushes: calamondins, cumquats, citrofortunella, Meyer's lemon covered with yellow and orange fruits.

It is hard to imagine that you would see a palm "fish tail" of the form of a leaf resembling a fish fin somewhere else. It is also called wine palm, since its fruits are used to produce wine. No less interesting is thatch palm-its marrow is used to make a salad, most expensive salad in the world. The ginkgo biloba tree is actively used in medicine; Bougainville spp. is known for its bright and rich color called "fiery". All these species are only a small part of the wealth of our greenhouse.

In addition to the greenhouse, we have also a garden of fruit and decorative cultures with dominating apple trees of different forms and varieties.

Employees of the institute are engaged in both scientific and educational programs. The annual number of visitors of the greenhouse is about 3,000, most of them are residents of Irkutsk, Irkutsk Region and Buryatia. During excursions, they get visual information on the structure of biosphere, principles of functioning of ecosystems of different types. In addition, biologists carry out consultations on flower-growing, vegetable-growing, and horticulture. They can design, transplant and provide recommendations on management and maintenance of a country garden or a winter garden. Such services are in great demand in the city, which makes local specialists think about establishing a special center, where enthusiasts can get valuable information.

Photos by A. Raikevich


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