How fungus could allow future astronauts to grow their own drugs in space

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Apr 8, 2016, 7:20 PM EDT

Sure, you can plan ahead for things like food — but you never know how much (or what type of) medicine you might need for a years-long journey. If you’re talking about a trip to Mars, that gets even more complicated. But scientists think fungus and synthetic biology could be the key to keeping future space explorers stocked up on meds.

As Popular Science reports, pharmacologist Clay Wang is gearing up to have an experiment included on the SpaceX launch today, which will restock the International Space Station (ISS). Bundled with the cargo? Some samples of Aspergillus nidulans, which Wang’s team at the University of Southern California believes might be able to produce the building blocks for several different types of medicines in space.

But first, they have to see how this particular species of fungus holds up in the stresses of space, where everything from microgravity to radiation can potentially degrade or affect the chemicals. Digging deeper, Wang said the fungus produces different compounds based on where it grows — so by growing it in space, they hope it might create some even more unique compounds, which could help develop medicine for future astronauts.

Once they get a feel for how this trip to space actually affects the fungus, the team will study it and determine if a different strain might be better suited to space travel — or if this fungus could be used to make our deep-space medicine.

(Via Popular Science)