The phytotron opened in the former Agricultural Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on November 3rd 1972 is one of the largest and most up-to-date facilities for plant experimentation in Europe. The various types of plant growth and testing units, manufactured by the Canadian company Controlled Environments Ltd. (Conviron), allow plant experiments to be carried out under programmed, reproducible conditions, quite independently of the external environmental conditions. In the high quality phytotron units, the climate of any part of the world where vegetation exists can be simulated in reproducible programmes, with temperatures ranging from –25°C to +45°C. The effect of each component of the climate on plant life can be examined separately or in combination.
The phytotron provides excellent facilities for a wide range of plant research projects. In the early years the advantages of the controlled environment were mainly exploited in experiments on biotechnology, flowering biology, plant genetics and plant physiology, while nowadays an increasing amount of work is done on the probable effects of global climate changes, and on how climatic extremes influence the growth and development of plants, their abiotic and biotic resistance, and their chemical quality. Agro-ecological research and investigations on the environmental protection aspects of crop production are of increasing importance. The phytotron is also used for investigations on the biochemical and physiological processes involved in the adaptation of cereal species to abiotic stress (temperature, drought, heavy metals) and for functional genomic studies on the genes responsible for this adaptation. Since the phytotron was opened, the advantages of the controlled environment have been enjoyed not only by the staff of the Martonvásár institute, but also by other research institutes, universities and development companies, who have used it for special research and development purposes. It was understood when the funds for the phytotron were provided by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences that the growth chambers should be made available to all researchers who required controlled conditions for their work, since this was the only facility of its kind in Hungary.
More than 500 experiments carried out so far for external clients made up 15 % of the total number of experiments. Of the over 40 institutes and companies involved, special mention should be made of the National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, for whom the frost resistance of winter wheat and barley varieties and experimental lines has been tested each year since 1976 as part of the state variety trials. Experiments have also been set up for other institutes on several dozen other plants, including chamomile, hemp, rape, periwinkle, oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, soybeans, carnations, etc.
Many scientists have made use of this opportunity and numerous papers in international and Hungarian journals, dissertations and patents have arisen from the experiments carried out in the phytotron.