The study of microbes in the spaceflight environment holds considerable potential for future, basic research and industrial applications. Investigations into microbial ecology, genotypic and phenotypic properties, and the infectious disease-causing potential of microorganisms in the spaceflight environment, may unveil novel mechanisms that could not be elucidated using traditional approaches on Earth, where gravity may be restricting our discovery of unique cellular responses.
The International Space Station Stakeholder Workshop took place Aug. 9, 2017, in Washington, D.C. The purpose was to engage space station stakeholders in gathering information that may be used in the development of NASA’s future planning activities. Specifically, the workshop targeted the commercial space sector, researchers, technology developers, transportation and habitation providers, other government agencies, and other interested parties, providing a forum for dialogue with NASA on topics relevant to space station future planning. Topics discussed included the low-Earth orbit (LEO) commercial, research, and development market; access to space; the value of permanent human habitation in LEO; and structure and planning for public-private partnerships in LEO.
Experiments and Publications
Principal Investigator: Carl Gregory, Ph.D.
Affiliation: Texas A&M Health Science Center
Develop a system to coculture and analyze stem cells mixed with bone tumor cells in microgravity. Between 35% and 50% of cancers metastasize to bone, and this system may allow identification of potential molecular targets for drugs specific to these cancers.
- Principal Investigator: Timothy Hammond, M.B., B.SAffiliation: Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center
Investigate a yeast-based assay that is used in developing drug therapies on the ground. Previous investigations on the U.S. Space Shuttle showed changes in this assay in space, and Dr. Hammond seeks to demonstrate that these changes can be used for discovery and evaluation of drugs such as cancer therapeutics. Initial experiments studying existing drugs may reveal new uses for these drugs while optimizing the experimental methodology and paving the way for future experiments.
Principal Investigator: Joseph D. Ng, Ph.D.
Affiliation: iXpressGenes, Hunstville, AL
Ng, Joseph D.,, et al. (2015). "Large-volume protein crystal growth for neutron macromolecular crystallography." Acta Crystallographica Section F 71 4: 358-370
Neutron macromolecular crystallography (NMC) is the prevailing method for the accurate determination of the positions of H atoms in macromolecules. As neutron sources are becoming more available to general users, finding means to optimize the growth of protein crystals to sizes suitable for NMC is extremely important. Historically, much has been learned about growing crystals for X-ray diffraction. However, owing to new-generation synchrotron X-ray facilities and sensitive detectors, protein crystal sizes as small as in the nano-range have become adequate for structure determination, lessening the necessity to grow large crystals. Here, some of the approaches, techniques and considerations for the growth of crystals to significant dimensions that are now relevant to NMC are revisited. These include experimental strategies utilizing solubility diagrams, ripening effects, classical crystallization techniques, microgravity and theoretical considerations.
Principal Investigator: Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Ph.D.
Affiliation: California Institute of Technology
Fungal organisms are well known for the production of a large number of compounds that have benefits for human medicine (e.g., antibiotics and anticancer drugs) and agriculture (e.g., antifungal agents to protect crops). In the BRIC-Natural Products (BRIC-NP) investigation, radiation-tolerant fungal strains isolated from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant are exposed to spaceflight conditions on board the International Space Station (ISS), and then screened for the biological production of beneficial medical or agricultural substances.
Singh NK, Blachowicz A, Romsdahl J, Wang CC, Torok T, Venkateswaran KJ. Draft genome sequences of several fungal strains selected for exposure to microgravity at the International Space Station. Genome Announcements. 2017 April 13: 3 pp. DOI: 10.1128/genomeA.01602-16. PMID: 28408692.