It’s loads of pressure to put on yeast.
If humans are ever to live in space, beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, scientists must understand and safeguard against the impacts of cosmic rays and near-zero gravity on living organisms.
“Our DNA will get damaged, we all know that,” explained Dr. Corey Nislow, a pharmaceutical sciences professor on the University of British Columbia.
“Out last common ancestor with yeast was a billion years ago, (but) half of our genes operate in very much the identical way, so by learning how cosmic radiation on those trips to the moon and beyond affects yeast genes, we will very rapidly extrapolate that information to human genes.”
In mid-November, Nislow sent yeast and algae cultures into space for a visit across the moon. It was the primary time in 50 years that biological materials left the Earth’s lower orbit to be exposed to space and later analyzed on the molecular level, he said.
The samples, placed in NASA’s Orion capsule, splashed into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, completing the Artemis 1 lunar mission, after three scrubbed launch attempts.
Nislow, relieved, will fly to Florida next week to retrieve them.
“The warmth shield had never been tested before with samples aboard,” he explained. “In order that heat shield got to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 Celsius) … it looked pretty cooked up, but the inside of the capsule held just superb.”
Studying the genetic changes to the yeast and algae could help researchers design higher treatments for future space voyagers and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, he told Global News.
“We will learn what genes are affected in cosmic radiation and compare them to our database of 10,000 other environments we’ve studied here on Earth,” he explained.
“Inside that data, we will find, are there treatments that we’ve learned will assistance on Earth to alleviate damage that happens from cosmic radiation?”
If a everlasting base becomes a reality on the moon, Nislow said he will likely be applying to have his yeast samples return, so that they might be archived, tracked and maintained for so long as possible.
“They’ve put their time in and, equally vital, that is the primary set of yeast that went to the moon,” he said, affectionately branding his yeast as “the mutants.”
Nislow said he also doesn’t see a reason a number of the yeast couldn’t be used to make beer.
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