SpaceX will take on board two of the world’s most consumed plants in its business: coffee and cannabis.
Spacial cannabis !
The agrotech company Front Range Biosciences® (FRB) has partnered with SpaceCells USA Inc. to send coffee and hemp tissue cultures. The experiment will be used to study whether plant cells undergo gene expression changes or genetic mutations in space.
The cargo will be loaded on a SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight, scheduled to take off in March 2020. From there, the equipment will go to the International Space Station (ISS), where the cultures will be conducted under strict conditions by NASA astronauts and designed by BioServe Space Technologies, a research arm of the University of Colorado.
Nearly 500 crops will be grown in the ISS plant incubator. BioServe will monitor growing conditions for about a month from its operations center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Once the cells return to Earth, FRB will examine how exposure to space radiation and microgravity has affected the expression of plant genes.
“This is one of the first times anyone has studied the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell crops,” said Dr. Jonathan Vaught, co-founder, and CEO of Front Range Biosciences. “There is scientific evidence to support the theory that plants in space undergo mutations. This is an opportunity to see if these changes continue once they are brought back to Earth and if there are new commercial applications. »
These mutations are the reason why it would be difficult today to smoke cannabis in space.
Why send coffee and cannabis into space?
The experiment could help farmers and scientists to see how space affects plant reactions and whether they respond well in space. The purpose is in particular to the challenges posed by climate change on the conditions of cultivation on Earth by drought or high temperature.
“These are great ideas that we are pursuing and there is a huge opportunity to commercialize new chemotypes, as well as plants that can better adapt to drought and cold,” said Peter McCullagh, CEO of Space Cells. “We hope to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change. »
“We plan this to be the first of a series of experiments together,” said Louis Stodieck, Chief Scientist of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In the future, we expect the crew to harvest and preserve plants at different times in their growth cycle so that we can analyze the activated and deactivated metabolic pathways. This is a fascinating field of study with considerable potential. »
Another start-up, Space Tango, sent hemp seeds into the ISS via a SpaceX rocket, sent them back to Earth and started growing them. Their results do not yet seem to be published.