Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
Last March, from Kennedy Space Center, coffee and hemp cell cultures were launched into space.
The samples were loaded onto a SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight and delivered to the International Space Station (ISS). Front Range Biosciences (FRB), an agricultural technology company, was behind the venture, alongside partners SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The 480 hemp and coffee plant cell cultures were housed in a temperature-regulated incubator for 30 days while onboard the ISS and monitored remotely from an operations centre at the university. They returned to Earth as saplings onboard the Space Dragon capsule.
“Ultimately, we wanted to better understand how plant cells underwent gene expression changes or genetic mutations while in a microgravity environment,” Jonathan Vaught, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of FRB, told Boulder Weekly.
Vaught said the mission offered insight into how plants respond to zero-gravity conditions.
“On Earth, plants are constantly working to defy gravity in order to rise above the ground, but since they were not utilizing this energy in zero-gravity conditions, we were able to observe where different biological changes started to occur,” he said. “The results of the research could help growers and scientists identify new varieties or chemical expressions in the plant.”
The knowledge gained can also be applied to conditions on Earth and, in particular, how these plants respond to stress. With cannabis, the plants could potentially be engineered to withstand a variety of challenging growing conditions.