Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) in the US and Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have collaborated to launch fungi into space to potentially develop new medicine for use both in space and on Earth.
The team of researchers will send specimens of Aspergillus nidulans fungus to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 mission.
The decision to send fungi into space is based on the findings of a study, in which molecules from Aspergillus nidulans were found to have the potential for use in anti-cancer, anti-fungal and Alzheimer’s disease studies.
During genetic analysis, the fungus was found to have the potential to produce 40 different types of drugs.
The high-radiation, microgravity environment in space is believed to prompt Aspergillus nidulans to produce molecules it does not create in earth’s less stressful conditions, the researchers said.
USC School of Pharmacy pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences and chemistry professor Clay Wang said: "The organism is known to produce osteoporosis drugs, which is very important from an astronaut’s perspective because we know that in space travel, astronauts experience bone loss."
Four different strains of the fungus will be stored at 4°C and placed in the payload of SpaceX CRS-8.
After the spacecraft reaches the ISS, the fungi will be placed in ideal growth conditions at 37°C, where they will remain for either four or seven days. The fungal payload will be then cooled to 4°C.
Following splashdown in May, the samples will be sent back to USC, where the researchers will analyse the data with a control sample grown on earth.
The USC-JPL study is being supported by $600,000 in financial assistance from Nasa’s space biology programme.
Image: Researchers will launch fungi into space to potentially develop new medicine for use both in space and on earth. Photo: courtesy of USC.