Front Range Biosciences, an agricultural technology company based in Lafayette, Colorado, this week announced a partnership with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder (UOCB) to send hemp and coffee tissue culture into space aboard the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight.
The intended purpose of the shipment is for a study focused on discovering how plant cells undergo gene expression changes or experience genetic mutations while in space.
“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” says Front Range Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Jonathon Vaught. “There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”
Front Range will supply the plant cultures, SpaceCells will provide expertise, management, and funding, and BioServe will provide flight-qualified hardware to house the plant materials.
BioServe will also work with NASA astronauts to transfer the hardware to their incubator onboard the ISS and perform the experiment.
Up to 480 plant cell cultures will spend approximately 30 days aboard the ISS in a temperature-regulated, space-made incubator where the environmental conditions for the cultures will be monitored remotely from BioServe’s payload operations center at UOCB.
Following their month-long stay in space, the cells will be returned to Earth where Front Range researchers will examine them and assess their RNA to measure any gene expression alterations they might have developed from exposure to microgravity and space radiation.
Studying how plants respond to environments such as space can help companies develop crops that thrive in places on Earth where they have not grown well in the past.
The experiment is being targeted for transport to the ISS aboard a SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight that is scheduled for March of 2020.