Agri-tech company Front Range Biosciences announced plans to send cannabis to the International Space Station (ISS) . No, it’s not space-shipping weed to get astronauts high. Instead, it’ll send plant cultures of hemp, the legal cannabis strain with low levels of compound THC.
The project was developed in conjunction with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies, a research institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Plant cell cultures of hemp and coffee will be transported to the ISS aboard the next SpaceX resupply mission scheduled for March 2020. The idea behind the move is to test whether plants could mutate in zero gravity or if they can be genetically modified.
Up to 480 plant cell cultures will be kept in a special incubator that regulates temperature aboard the ISS for around 30 days. The cells will then be returned to Earth where scientists from Front Range Biosciences will examine them to see how microgravity and exposure to space radiation has 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,” Front Range CEO Dr Jonathan Vaught told Westword.
“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,” he added.
This will also allow scientists to better understand how plants manage the stress of space travel and set the stage for a whole new area of research for the company and the industry.
While this could be one of the first steps toward producing interstellar pot or coffee, the company claims this could have terrestrial applications, too.
The team hopes the results will help them design more resilient crops that can survive in climate change stricken areas.
Knowing exactly how plant DNA changes in novel environments could be the first step toward genetically engineering hemp plants to thrive in environments that may have undergone similar changes.
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.
“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,” Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, said in a press release shared with Rolling Stone. “We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”
That’s especially valuable considering that hemp has been proposed by some climate experts as a silver bullet to fighting climate change, as the plant is fast-growing, cost-effective, and biodegradable.
CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk previously came under fire for smoking pot during the live taping of a podcast with Joe Rogan in September 2018, an act that went viral and earned him a rap from NASA.
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