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If humanity is going to push the boundaries of space exploration, we're going to need plants to come along for the ride. Not just spinach or potatoes, though—plants can do so much more than just feed us.
A science experiment aiming to demonstrate plants' capabilities in space has arrived at the International Space Station and is ready to begin relaying data. The experiment, according to University of Utah chemistry professor and project chief scientist Ming Hammond, will assess in real-time whether plants engineered to bio-manufacture specific proteins, in a process called synthetic biology, can do so in space. The experiment began on Dec. 18 and will run through Dec. 28.
Lot - Promise - Hope - Tools - Biology
"There's a lot of promise, potential and hope that we can use the tools developed in synthetic biology to solve problems," Hammond says, "not just that you would find in space, but where you have extreme limitation of resources."
Hammond's involvement in this experiment, called Hydra-1, began at the University of California, Berkeley, before her recent move to the U. She and Berkeley graduate student Rebekah Kitto joined with a "very multidisciplinary team", Hammond says, of scientists and engineers looking to perform synthetic biology experiments in space.
Biology - Field - Systems - Case - Team
Synthetic biology is a field that engineers biological systems. In this case, the team is looking at plants as potential bio-factories. Every organism naturally produces countless proteins as part of its biological function, so why not engineer a plant to produce, say, a needed medication or a polymer that could be useful in future long-term space exploration missions?
"The benefit is that you can take seeds with you," Hammond says. "They're very lightweight. They grow and gain biomass using the CO2 that we breathe out. And if those plants can produce proteins on demand—we know that plants are able to produce anti-viral and anti-cancer antibodies on a large...
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