A team of researchers from the University of Southern California and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is about to send fungi into space for research purposes.

The fungi will be carried to the International Space Station (ISS) by a SpaceX rocket which is set to launch on April 8. Researchers will be looking into the possibility of developing medicine in space using fungi, writes Karan Gosal for PerfScience.

NASA To Send Fungi To ISS For Drug Research

Fungi has been useful in developing many different drugs

Fungi is known for the production of secondary metabolites, a kind of molecule which is useful for developing drugs. Many drugs, including penicillin, have been developed using the technique.

These molecules sometimes only form if the fungi are placed in an extremely stressful environment. The atmosphere on board the ISS is thought to provide perfect conditions for the necessary experiments.

Researchers believe that microgravity will encourage the Aspergillus nidulans species of fungi 40 different kinds of medicines. Aspergillus nidulans was chosen because it has been part of numerous pharmaceutical studies which have shown that it produces secondary metabolites useful in the treatment of osteoporosis.

Medicines could be vital on deep space missions

The species could produce molecules useful in the treatment of cancer, anti-fungal and Alzheimer’s disease. USC professor Clay Wang, who is leading the study, expects to receive the fungi back on Earth in May 2016.

“Drugs have an expiration date. NASA’s human mission to Mars is expected to last anywhere from one to three years. Not all drugs are going to be stable in that time period, so the ability to make drugs in space will enable us to go further away from Earth and will also benefit future space explorations”, said Wang.

Astronauts lose bone mass when they spend a long time in space, so A. nidulans could be incredibly useful for use in future deep space missions.

“Tens of years ago, scientists found that some species of fungi create molecules, secondary metabolites, to help beat stressful circumstances. As the researchers harvested molecules, the researchers were able to create important drugs that changed the way medicine,” according to a news report published by News Everyday.

The launch of the SpaceXCRS-8 mission will be the first cargo resupply mission since CRS-7 exploded shortly after launch on June 28, 2015.