Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) have developed a genetically modified (GM) lettuce that produces a drug which protects against bone density loss in microgravity. This breakthrough can help astronauts grow and eat nutritious plants than help them prevent diseases caused by long spaceflights.
The human bones constantly undergo a balance of growth and resorption to respond to injury and exercise. This balance is disturbed under microgravity, leaning towards more resorption. Thus, astronauts lose bone mass. The cure for such is regular injections of parathyroid hormone (PTH).
UC Davis graduate student, Kevin Yates, together with his professors, developed a GM lettuce that produces a fusion protein combining PTH with part of a human antibody protein. The fusion protein is engineered to be unchanging in the bloodstream. Being able to plant and extract the drug will be beneficial to astronauts in long spaceflights to save weight and get a fresh source of drugs. Conventional medicines usually have a short shelf life and thus astronauts would need ways to replenish their supplies during long spaceflights.
The research team is analyzing the amount of drugs that GM lettuce can produce, which leaves have the most amount of PTH, and the optimal time to harvest the leaves.
(Source: Crop Biotech Update, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.