December 14, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
Source: Front Range Biosciences
Front Range Biosciences, is teaming up with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, to conduct a scientific experiment to investigate how space radiation and microgravity affects Cannabis sativia -hemps' gene expression. They want to see if space environment produces any mutations and have contracted SpaceX services to launch some hemp cultures along with coffee to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Dragon's CRS-20 mission. This will be SpaceX's 20th resupply mission to the space station, scheduled for March 2020.
The @SpaceX #Dragon resupply ship is ahead of its timeline and @Astro_Luca and @AstroDrewMorgan could capture Dragon as soon as 4:51am ET with the @CSA_ASC Canadarm2 robotic arm. #AskNASA | https://t.co/yuOTrZ4Jut pic.twitter.com/kbHZFTbPcz— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) December 8, 2019
It will be the first time Cannabis sativia will be launched into space. Front Range Biosciences is providing the plant cultures, SpaceCells will provide funding for the project, and BioServe has qualified hardware to host the plant cultures under controlled conditions. Jonathan Vaught, co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences said in a statement:
"This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures."
While cannabis is illegal at the federal level, hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It does not have any kind of psychoactive effect, due to the low levels of THC that Cannabis sativa pocesses. So the hemp cultures that they will be sending to the space station will not be able to get astronauts high. Also, only tissue cultures are being sent, not fully fledged plants.
They plan to send 480 plant cell cultures (tissue cultures) into space to analyze microgravity and space radiation effects on hemps’ metabolic pathways. The experiment will last about one month, then the hemp cultures will be returned to Earth where researchers will examine the plant’s RNA to see if their gene expressions have mutated. Vaught said in a press release:
"There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications."
The experiment could expand their understanding of how plants react to space travel and aid in the development of new agricultural technology to create plant varieties that could survive harsh conditions on Earth due to climate change. "These are big ideas we're pursuing and there's a massive opportunity to bring to market new plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions," Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, said. "We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change."