Yeast that will go to the moon will show how radiation will affect astronauts

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of researchers will send 12 packets of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to the moon on the Artemis I mission.

They are hidden under one of the Orion’s seats in a shoebox-sized case. The millions of yeast cells inside this container will help scientists figure out how humans can live in the extreme environment of deep space.

Artemis I is the first step in a new era of lunar exploration at NASA. The space agency plans to launch astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade.

Researchers at BioServe are trying to keep these lunar explorers safe. Once the yeast cultures return to Earth, the team will study the DNA of the cells, and perhaps uncover clues that could help scientists find ways to prevent or treat radiation sickness.

The project is being led by Luis Zea, a former BioServe researcher who now works for Sierra Space in Colorado. Zea and his colleagues have been developing this experiment, called Deep Space Radiation Genomics (DSRG), for a long time.

For nearly 35 years, BioServe researchers have helped launch hundreds of biological experiments into space. Most of them went to the International Space Station (ISS).

Orion is a different laboratory. For starters, the spacecraft will fly hundreds of thousands of kilometers further. And unlike experiments on the ISS, astronauts won’t be able to help launch the DSRG.

A team of scientists has designed a shoebox-sized lab that will start up on its own when far from Earth. Once this happens, small pumps will fill the yeast bags with nutrient fluid and the cells will begin to grow and multiply.

Yeast cells are a marvel of technology in their own right. Working with researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada, the BioServe team developed about 12,000 mutant yeast strains for the experiment. Some of these organisms are missing certain genes, while others carry extra copies of code fragments.

Researchers from the German Aerospace Center and the University of Guatemala also contributed to this work. More than a dozen students took part in the experiment, including four from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Zea explained that although yeast cells may not look much like large primates, about 70% of the genes in humans and yeast are the same.

In other words, these cultures will provide insight into how certain genes or mechanisms for repairing damaged genes can be critical to the survival of organisms in the harsh environment of space.


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