Cannabis and coffee are heading to the International Space Station, and SpaceX is giving them a ride. Agri-tech company Front Range Biosciences® has partnered with SpaceCells USA Inc., which is funding and managing the project, to send tissue cultures of two of the world’s favorite substances into the cosmos. They will be studied by BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder to see how plant cells go through any gene expression changes or genetic mutations while in space.

Coffee and hemp samples from Front Range Biosciences® (FRB) will board a SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight, which is scheduled for liftoff in March, 2020. From there, the material will head to the International Space Station (ISS), where the cultures will be examined under BioServe’s controlled conditions in an incubator aboard the ISS—with a little help from NASA astronauts.

Nearly 500 plant cell cultures will be in the ISS-based incubator for about a month, with BioServe monitoring their conditions from its operations center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Once the cells come back to Earth, FRB will look at how exposure to space radiation and microgravity affected the gene expression of the plants.

“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” said Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-Founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences, 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.”

Why Send Coffee And Cannabis To Space?

The experiment could help growers and scientists see how space affects the plants’ reactions, and how well they deal with the act of being hurled into space. It’s all part of a burgeoning field of space research in which numerous different kinds of cells are being studied in space.

“These are big ideas we’re pursuing and there’s a massive opportunity to bring to market new Chemotypes, as well as Plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions,” said Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells. “We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”

Due to Earth’s rising temperatures, many areas that were once fertile have since dried up. As a result, these regions haven’t been able to sustain crops the same way they used to. Studying how different environments affect plant materials can pave the way for more advanced research in the future. To that end, FRB, SpaceCells USA Inc., and BioServe plan to continue with similar efforts, beyond this one.

“We envision this to be the first of many experiments together,” said Louis Stodieck, Chief Scientist of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

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