A Colorado-based company is teaming up with SpaceX to send a shipment of hemp and coffee to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its 'CRS-20' cargo flight in March.
The company behind the mission, Front Range Biosciences, has also partnered with SpaceCells USA and BioServe Space Technologies—along with the university of Colorado, Boulder—to get 480 cannabis tissue samples into space.
Once in orbit, the cultures will remain in an ISS incubator for a period of 30 days, while BioServe monitors the data on Earth.
Data taken from the experiment will then be used to better understand the effects of zero gravity on the plant.
In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle, so we can analyse which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential. Director of BioServe Space Technologies, Louis Stodieck
After 30 days the cannabis plant cell cultures will be sent back to Earth, allowing researchers to examine the tissue sample's DNA for changes caused by cosmic radiation and fluctuating gravity levels.
In fact, the Co-Founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences, Dr Jonathan Vaught, stated that the company intends to commercialise any potentially valuable discoveries uncovered by the project.
"This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures," Vaught said.
"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."
The eventual results of the research could also be used to assist growers or aid scientists in identifying new cannabis strains or chemical expressions within the plant.
Additionally, scientists may be able to use the findings to enhance their understanding of how plants react to the stress of space travel, which could be of particular interest to the agricultural industry, as it will allow for the creation of more resilient crop varieties.
"These are big ideas we're pursuing and there's a massive opportunity to bring to market new chemotypes, as well as plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions," said SpaceCells CEO Peter McCullagh.
"We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change."
Further plant-based trials aboard SpaceX flights are also planned—if the initial expeirment is succesful—as part of the company's ongoing initiative to develop studier strains capable of surviving harsh environments.
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