Press Release

NASA Narrows Selection of Fundamental Space Biology Missions

By SpaceRef Editor
June 4, 2010
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NASA Narrows Selection of Fundamental Space Biology Missions

NASA today announced it has selected two candidate proposals to study how life responds and adapts to space and microgravity for the agency’s next Fundamental Space Biology Program “missions of opportunity.” One project seeks to discover why bacteria become more virulent in space and another will study how tiny electrical currents in fern spores impact plant development in microgravity.

“I am pleased that NASA received proposals that were judged by the scientific community to be of exceptional scientific merit,” said Benjamin Neumann, director for the Advanced Capabilities Division in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. Engineers and scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will be in charge of developing and testing the spaceflight equipment that will be used to conduct these experiments in space.

In a solicitation issued jointly by the Fundamental Space Biology and Astrobiology Programs, NASA invited proposals that would shed light on the effects of space flight on life, provide an understanding of lifeĀ¹s foundations on Earth and beyond, or use small satellites to explore the solar system and identify biosignatures for remote sensing applications. NASA received a total of six proposals of which two were selected.

One proposal, “Spaceflight Effects on Bacterial Antibiotic Resistance and its Genetic Basis: AntimicrobialSat,” will investigate the biological mechanisms for bacteria’s increased antibiotic resistance and virulence in space. Scientists believe this could provide understanding necessary to design effective countermeasures to protect astronauts’ health during long-duration missions. Scientists will modify the strain of the E. coli bacteria, which was involved in previous studies of urinary tract infections in astronauts, to remove specific genetic components of the bacteria thought to cause increased virulence and test their resistance to the antibiotic gentamycin. Studies of bacterial virulence changes in spaceflight are also potentially important in understanding and preventing such changes on Earth. A.C. Matin, professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of this experiment.

The second selected proposal, “SporeSat Mission: Investigating Biophysical Mechanisms of Plant Gravisensing using a Lab-on-a-Chip Approach,” will develop state-of-the-art biomedical instrumentation to measure calcium currents in fern spores of Ceratopteris richardii. Calcium currents are important signaling mechanisms in most plant and animal cells. If the hardware development and testing is successful, spores will be studied during space flight where exposure to various levels of gravity will be used to determine the effect of gravity on how plant embryos establish the axes and develop. Scientists believe understanding how plants develop in space is important for biology and life support in future space and planetary missions. Marshall Porterfield, professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, is the principal investigator of this study. The experiment will include a modified and further developed version of Porterfield’s “lab-on-a-chip” device, a miniature analytical tool.

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., manages Fundamental Space Biology microsatellite missions and Astrobiology Small Payload missions for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, visit:

For more information about NASA’s Ames Research Center, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.