Fuel to Mars will identify genes and gene pathways in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii that convey the best survival advantage during exposure to the combined impacts of space radiation and microgravity to become the parent strains in future studies to optimize generation of hydrogen and other fuels in space.
The proposed studies [BS(D4] directly address NASA's Space Biology Science Plan 2016 to identify key cellular and molecular systems necessary for biological organisms to thrive in the space environment. The research also addresses the 2011 Decadal Survey on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space which recommends the use of state-of-the-art cell biology tools to monitor evolution of genomic changes in microbes, plants, animals, or other biological systems in spaceflight.
Scheduled to launch as part of Biological Experiment-01 (BioExpt-01) aboard the Artemis I Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for lunar orbit.
The goal is to identify strains of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii with gene insertions that convey the best survival advantage during exposure to the combined impacts of space radiation and microgravity for future use as parent strains in hydrogen production initiatives.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a single-cell green algae that produces two products of great
interest to space travel: lipids as a source of bioproducts and hydrogen as a source of fuel. The research team will use a genetically engineered deletion series of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to identify the strains that confer best survivability in space flight. These 'space-hardy' strains can then be crossed with high hydrogen-producing strains to generate a strain with the optimum ability to both fly to distant sites and generate hydrogen to fuel return missions.
Although focused on gene pathways for survival for future applications in hydrogen fuel production, the data generated will provide genome-level insights into the cancer risks of prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity. The spectrum of cancer risk genes is known, and this study will parse the importance of risk genes, and the patterns of radiation risk change with exposure to the cosmic space environment beyond the Van Allen Belts.