UBC scientists send algae and yeast into space

This is an experiment conducted by scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) to discover protection against cosmic radiation for astronauts.

NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket will travel in previously unseen space terrain, beyond the Van Allen belt, which protects in particular from radiation. Beyond this belt, all biological material is exposed to cosmic radiation which can produce health complications in humans, from cataracts to cancer.

Once you leave the safety of the Van Allen beltexplains Corey Nislow of theUBC, there is no shielding available that can protect biological material, including crew members, from the effects of cosmic radiation.

Researcher Corey Nislow hopes the experiment will find ways to protect against cosmic radiation.

Photo: Corey Nislow

A first in 50 year

This scientist who directs the research and his collaborators thus send the first biological material which will exceed the Earth’s orbit in half a century, the last time being in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission.

To predict the possible effects of radiation on the flesh and blood of astronauts, scientists will observe the effects of this environment on yeast, an ingredient found in our pantries, and a single-celled algae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

Even though yeast and human beings are separated by millions of years of evolution, half of yeast’s genetic makeup is almost identical to that of humans. »

A quote from Corey Nislow, Researcher, University of British Columbia

Yeast, a unicellular microorganism, has about 6000 genes.

According to Corey Nislow, the cells of the yeast sent into space were each modified to produce 6,000 genetically different versions. Thus, it will be possible to follow the evolution of each variation.

The algae, for its part, will determine the effect of radiation on plants.

The size of a shoebox

Once the spacecraft leaves the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, the dried yeast will be remotely rehydrated so it can grow and divide as it is bombarded with cosmic radiation.

Five to six weeks later, when the spacecraft returns to Earth, the experiment box, which is the size of a shoebox, will be returned to Corey Nislow’s lab at Columbia University. British.

An experiment

The inside of the box before final assembly for installation on the rocket.

Photo: Corey Nislow

Scientists hope that at least one of the genetically modified yeast cells will have resisted cosmic radiation or even been able to repair itself.

We may wonder what drugs or chemical compounds are available to us that can help reduce the sensitivity of certain particular genes. »

A quote from Corey Nislow, Researcher, University of British Columbia

He also hopes to find elements that will lead to the development of cancer treatments since the reaction of cells to radiation so far seems to be close to that of cells that suffer damage from chemotherapy.

The first step to a future in space?

Artemis 1 is a first mission in a series that, in the long term, would establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon. Corey Nislow believes that until a way to protect against radiation hazards is found, it would be unethical to send humans on space missions that exceed one year.

He hopes the experiment, which uses one of the oldest life forms on the planet, will allow humans to travel safely to other worlds.

Without being hyperbolic, this is a very important stephe said.

With information from Curt Petrovich

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