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The International Space Station (ISS) is the perfect place for new and exciting research to be done.

That’s just as true for biotechnology applications. And researchers from the German Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft organization did just that with a 16-month long-term experiment on the ISS.

The Study

The purpose was to determine what microgravity and extreme conditions of space would have on algae. This information, in turn, could be used for potential industrial uses in a mission to Mars and even on Earth, depending on what is discovered.

Over that time period, the algae was placed on the exterior of the station and was able to survive, even though it had to deal with extreme cold and a variety of damaging radiation types.

The specific two species chosen were Sphaerocystis, an algae from Svalbard in the far northern Scandinavian reaches, and Nostoc, a cyanobacterial alga from Antarctica. Both are extremophiles that love cold temperatures and would be one of the more likely candidates to do well in the space exposure test.

These two species are highly resistant to desiccation from lack of moisture and also algae in general are more resistant to UV radiation than other organisms.

Results To Be Determined

Now that the two algae have been returned from their mid-2014 to now mission, they will be genetically sequenced to see if they had any gene changes or overall damage incurred from the exposure.

A fair amount of information is to be gleaned from them, such as their capability of producing oxygen or food proteins if used on a Mars colony mission, along with more ephemeral, but interesting questions regarding whether it is possible for life on Earth to have been seeded from space.

Common industrial applications here on Earth could include better UV-blocking sunscreens and other substances derived from the algae. Usage in the food industry is also a possibility.

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Photo CCs: MISSE STS-118 from Wikimedia Commons

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