Researchers use fungi to develop space drugs on International Space Station

Space Station
Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock
When people think of fungi, they often think of mushrooms or mold, but there is so much more to this diverse group of organisms. Not only are fungi used to make beer, wine and bread, but they are also vital ingredients in some of the most popular and successful medications ever developed. Their ability to create natural products with medicinal properties is going to be tested again — this time on the International Space Station.

As part of the NASA Micro-10 project, the Wang Group of the University of Southern California, along with the NASA Space Biology Program and CASIS, is preparing to send four four different strains of Aspergillus nidulans, a standard pharmaceutical research fungi, to the International Space Station. The fungi will be included in the payload being sent to the station on the upcoming SpaceX CRS-8 mission, which is expected to launch on April 8.

“This is the first project where we see an intersection between pharmaceutical science and space exploration,” said principal investigator and USC pharmacologist Clay Wang.

The scientists on board the space station will cultivate the fungi and study the effects of both microgravity and high radiation on the fungi’s natural product production. The crew will grow the fungi at a tropical 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for one week and then store the specimens in the freezer until they are sent back to Earth in May for analysis. Growth and natural product production from the space-based fungi will be compared to control samples of the fungi that were grown at the same time on Earth.

Related: The International Space Station just turned 15 years old

On Earth, A. nidulans is used to produce Anidulafungin, an antifungal drug used to treat invasive fungal infections such as candidiasis. The team hopes the extreme conditions of the space environment will stimulate A. nidulans to develop new biosynthetic pathways which could lead to the production of novel drugs capable of treating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, among others.

Researchers also hope that a successful trial could open the door to future space-based pharmaceutical experiments and the discovery of even more new medicines. These experiments may prove beneficial to our health and well-being on Earth and on future Mars missions, which could rely on these organisms to produce drugs during the lengthy trip to the red planet.

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: New Motorola flip phone, ads in space, smart umbrella

On this episode of Digital Trends Live we discussed trending headlines like foldable smartphones and advertising in space. We also sat down with Caleb Denison and Ronan Glon to talk about the world of tech post CES 2019.
Movies & TV

Netflix recruits Steve Carell for the Trump-inspired comedy ‘Space Force’

Steve Carell, Netflix, and The Office showrunner Greg Daniels are teaming up for Space Force, a workplace comedy poking fun at the Trump White House's plans to establish a sixth branch of the U.S. military.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.