2 September 2009
- General (Good)
When It Comes to Gravity, Less Is More
Astrogenetix brings medical experiments to space
by Carol Pinchefsky
By Carol Pinchefsky and G.B. Leatherwood

When the space shuttle Discovery lifted off on August 28, 2009, it carried an unlikely passenger: strains of Staphlyococcus aureus and Salmonella microbes, courtesy of Astrogenetix, a biotechnology company with an interest in space's low gravity.

According to Scott Haywood, corporate marketing and communications for Astrogenetix, just as temperature effects scientific experiments, so does gravity. And the microgravity environment made possible in an orbital laboratory makes microbes larger and more virulent. Haywood said Astrogenetix is “looking for the genetic markers that cause this virulence. By identifying those, we are able to develop vaccines and therapeutics based on these discoveries.”

It takes only a few days to perform experiments with Salmonella and Staphylococcus microbes. But when the International Space Station ( ISS) reaches its “utilization phase” (presumably when construction is completed in 2011), Astrogenetix will be able to lengthen their research.

Researchers at Astrogenetix are looking forward to extended journeys to space that the ISS offers, because minimal gravity provides a different platform for scientific experiments. But what about the even longer durations that an orbital space station or Moon base could supply? “This area is still unknown, but the absence of gravity over an extended period of time could yield some exciting developments,” said Haywood.

The results of Astrogenetix’ work? A quicker, less expensive way to develop drugs. A deeper knowledge of biomarkers, which indicate the presence of disease. And in the future, personalized medications.

DuPont helped people live better through chemistry. Astrogenetix plans to help people through space science.

For more information, see the Astrogenetix site.
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Carol Pinchefsky 2 September 2009
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