'Synthetic biology' promises to make space exploration 'more practical'

A new research has revealed that synthetic biology is a key to make manned space missions more practical.

ANI| Last Updated: Nov 07, 2014, 12:53 PM IST

Washington: A new research has revealed that synthetic biology is a key to make manned space missions more practical.

Lead author Adam Arkin from Berkeley Lab said that synthetic biology promise to make the travel to extraterrestrial locations more practical and bearable and could also be transformative once explorers arrive at their destination.

Arkin added that during flight, the ability to augment fuel and other energy needs, to provide small amounts of needed materials, plus renewable, nutritional and taste-engineered food, and drugs-on-demand can save costs and increase astronaut health and welfare and at an extraterrestrial base, synthetic biology could make even more effective use of the catalytic activities of diverse organisms.

The study reports on a techno-economic analysis demonstrating the significant utility of deploying non-traditional biological techniques to harness available volatiles and waste resources on manned long-duration space missions.

Most of the current technologies, which are now deployed or under development for providing this support, are abiotic, meaning non-biological and so, Arkin, Amor Menezes and their collaborators have shown that providing this support with technologies based on existing biological processes is a more than viable alternative.

Menezes said that because synthetic biology allows them to engineer biological processes to their advantage, they found in their analysis that technologies, when using common space metrics such as mass, power and volume, have the potential to provide substantial cost savings, especially in mass.

Arkin added that microbes could be used to greatly augment the materials available at a landing site, enable the biomanufacturing of food and pharmaceuticals, and possibly even modify and enrich local soils for agriculture in controlled environments.

The authors acknowledge that much of their analysis is speculative and that their calculations show a number of significant challenges to making biomanufacturing a feasible augmentation and replacement for abiotic technologies.

The study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.