Synthetic Biology For The Improvement of Manned Space Missions In Space

by Rida Fatima

Synthetic Biology
(Figure 1: After humans reach an extraterrestrial destination, microbial-based biomanufacturing might change everything and become a key source of making life interplanetary. (This photo is provided by Royal Academy Interface))

As humans enter a new era of exploring the cosmos to know what lies beyond our sky, there are many challenges they must overcome. New technologies are being brought to light by the innovators of science to allow them to travel further from planet Earth. Space synthetic biology is a promising life support approach, that minimizes the payload launched and increases reuse and recycling. It also uses local resources for the creation of essential products needed by the astronauts aboard ISS. The application of synthetic biology in space exploration is the key to future manned space missions.

Target Areas For Synthetic Biology In Space

The 4 main target areas on which scientists are focusing are how synthetic biology can make fuel generation, biopolymer synthesis, food production, and pharmaceutical manufacture more effective and efficient. Microbial biomanufacturing also has a lot of significance as it can lower the mass of manufactured fuel by 56%. In addition, bacteria might entirely restock exhausted or contaminated medicinal supplies, enabling independence from the resupply cargo missions that take up to 210 days to reach Mars.

Mars Food Production, augmented by Synthetic Biology
(Mars Food Production, augmented by Synthetic Biology (dall-e))

Synthetic Biology Application For Rocket Fuel

Using biotechnology, scientists have developed a strategy for producing crucial propulsion fuel for the journey to Mars. This study seeks to provide numerous significant benefits over existing proposed ways for producing Mars rocket fuel. Considerable synthesis of biological propellants is projected to become a vital technology for future Mars exploration missions.

As the cost of launching and sending payload to Mars is extremely expensive, it makes sense to manufacture some of the needed fuel in space instead of bringing it all from Earth. The generation of a methane-oxygen fuel mixture is being planned by utilizing carbon dioxide, it will be needed for the return trip from Mars. Apart from this, recently another fuel blend idea has gained attention due to its efficiency and safety. It involves blending nitrous oxide along with a few specific hydrocarbons, though studies and research are still going on to check how this blend can be generated in space. Here, synthetic biology is helping in two ways; if a methane-oxygen fuel blend is chosen then it will increase the savings. The generation of nitrous oxide hydrocarbon fuel becomes more efficient and suitable.

Manufacturing Of Space Medicine

Drugs have faster expiry in space due to exposure to harmful space radiation. There is a high chance of lowering the tolerability of solid medication formulations by up to 3 quarters. The capacity to synthesise pharmaceuticals in space is very important for astronauts in long-haul space flights. Synthetic biology medication manufacturing is a potential replacement for conventional drug production methods in space. It also significantly minimises the requirement for emergency payload supplies. That’s where Space Synthetic Biology (SynBio) project comes in, which was introduced by NASA for developing technology to produce valuable items such as vitamins and medications on demand.

Astronauts can take the only renewable and natural resource from Earth into space: Cells. It can either be fungi or bacteria cells. They can be repurposed or modified to manufacture specific materials such as bioplastics using synthetic DNA. These bioplastics can then be introduced in 3-D printers to create anything that astronauts may require during their space missions. The constructed material can be anything such as electronic gadgets or medical equipment.

These innovative technologies are still evolving, and a long-duration human space trip is still several years away. An increase in mass savings occurs when the supplied feedstock essential to 3-D print a lunar or Martian habitat is substituted for the shipped mass required to biologically create the feedstock on location. Nevertheless, 3-D printing in space is still new and unproven. Additionally, the production of printer feedstock for this purpose has yet to be thoroughly investigated.

Significant Role In Food Production

The BioNutrients experiment is part of US space agency NASA’s SynBio project. It is located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. It will assess and evaluate an in-space nutrient production approach that employs genetically-engineered baker’s yeast and a longer shelf growth substrate. The aim is to produce the antioxidants that are mostly found in carrots, bell peppers, and vegetables. Beta carotene and zeaxanthin are included in such antioxidants.

The first batch of “BioNutrient” was sent to the ISS in April 2019. The length of experiment was decided to be five years by the SynBio team. Dehydrated yeast along with their food source was present in BioNutrient packs. To begin the testing, astronauts aboard the International Space Station added sterile water to the bag. It was thoroughly mixed, and kept in a warm place for 48 hours. It was frozen for further analysis to be done on Earth to check how well the system performed and how much yeast grew in the BioNutrient packets. Not only that, but the SynBio project team is also working on a mechanism that chemically transforms CO2 and H2O into organic molecules that can “feed” microbial biomanufacturing systems. It will also allow them to produce a variety of items like food, medicines, and plastics. This method could be widely used to generate these things in a sustainable manner on Earth.

Future Of Space Synthetic Biology

Space synthetic biology is truly ground-breaking. Abiotic technologies were developed for decades before they were successfully utilized in space, and biological technologies like synthetic biology are only now seeing development efforts. Of course, these technologies have some catching up to do, but it turns out that they may not be too far behind, and in some cases, the technologies may already be superior to their abiotic counterparts. This innovative technological field of science holds great future promise as a new and exciting biotechnology field, with numerous directions for fruitful research that are grounded in technologies already in development today.



by Rida Fatima

Instead of just sedimentary rocks, the Perseverance rover from NASA discovered something
(Fig 1: Instead of just sedimentary rocks, the Perseverance rover from NASA discovered something in the early stages of life in the Jezero Crater on Mars. Jezero Crater on Mars was photographed by NASA’s Perseverance rover.)

Since red rocks and craters can be seen in every Mars image that has been seen by humanity so far, Mars is thought of as a red planet. Scientists did not expect to see anything otherwise when NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater. However, what the rover discovered on the ground was unexpected. As we have seen in the past, Jazero Crater was chosen as the perfect location for the rover to land, as this part of Mars has a very rich river system, magnetic field, air, and liquid water. Two famous planetary researchers in the fields of earth sciences, planetary sciences, and atmospheric sciences are known as Roger Wiens and Briony Horgan, and they have published something very new in the famous journals. According to information released by Purdue University, where these researchers work, the rover was going to witness sedimentary rocks on the bottom side of the lake, but instead, it witnessed something different and unexpected and discovered many of these rocks to be volcanic in origin. According to the university, these rocks were discovered to contain “huge grains of olivine, the muddier, less-gemlike variant of period that colors so many of Hawaii’s beaches rich green” (ABP, 2022).

A tweet by NASA’s official about the Jazero Crater
(Fig 2: A tweet by NASA’s official about the Jazero Crater. Picture Credits: Twitter and NASA.)

They began to notice that the layered igneous rocks we were witnessing did not resemble the igneous rocks found on Earth today. Instead, they resemble the igneous rocks that formed when the Earth first formed, according to Wiens. In order to analyze samples and identify the kind and provenance of the rocks, the SuperCam on Perseverance was designed and built under Wiens’ direction. Horgan, on the other hand, assisted in deciding on Jezero Crater as the rover’s landing spot. The rocks and lava that the rover on Mars is examining are almost 4 billion years old, according to the experts. The fact that our planet has active tectonic plates, in addition to the weathering impacts of wind, water, and life over billions of years, means that while such ancient rocks have been discovered, they are severely weather-beaten. But on Mars, these rocks are pure, making it far simpler to investigate them, the university claimed (ABP, 2022).

The Jezero Crater Surprise

During the spring of 2021, the Perseverance rover from NASA started studying the rocks in Jezero Crater on Mars. When the rover communicated what they had discovered, scientists were taken aback. Since the location once hosted a lake, sedimentary rock that formed when sand and mud settled in the wet environment was expected to be there. Instead, the rover found that the floor was composed of two different types of igneous rock, one of which was generated by magma deep beneath and the other by volcanic activity on the surface, according to NASA. Because the crystals in igneous rocks preserve a wealth of information regarding the precise moment of their formation, they are regarded as excellent timekeepers.

According to a NASA blog post by Ken Farley of Caltech, the project scientist for Perseverance and the author of the aforementioned Science publication, “The igneous rocks we obtained will tell us approximately when the lake was existing in Jezero. We are aware that it predates the formation of the igneous crater floor rocks.” He said that this would answer several important concerns, such as when Mars’ environment was suitable for lakes and rivers and when it reverted to the extremely chilly and dry conditions that exist today. The hunt for life is one of Perseverance’s primary professed objectives. However, igneous rock isn’t the best material for preserving any potential traces of prehistoric microscopic life that the rover may find, according to NASA, because of the manner it was generated. On the other hand, sedimentary rock frequently originates in wet settings that are favorable for life, making it better at preserving early indications of life. Sedimentary rock’s age might be difficult to ascertain, especially if it includes fragments that were produced at several points before the sediment was deposited (ABP, 2022).

According to NASA, this is why scientists found the sediment-rich river delta that the rover has been exploring since April 2022 to be particularly “tantalising.” We observed these rocks from orbit and said, “Oh, they have gorgeous layers! We therefore assumed that they were sedimentary rocks. We didn’t realise that these are not sedimentary rocks until we were up close and examined them at the millimetre scale. Actually, these are old lava. We had a major breakthrough when we discovered it on the ground, and it amply demonstrated the need for this kind of exploration”, according to Horgan, who was quoted by Purdue.

Scientists have high hopes for the sedimentary rocks that Perseverance is currently analysing after uncovering the potential for habitable conditions in Jezero Crater’s old lava flows, which are currently thought to be uninhabitable (TECH, 2022).

The anticipation for “further greater results about organics and old, livable ecosystems” is expressed by Horgan. “According to my observations, it is really laying the groundwork that the Red Planet is this much of an aqueous, livable planet, and by getting all the samples back, it will lead us to understand even better the chemistry of ancient microbial life that is existing on the Red Planet,” the researcher says. Furthermore, NASA is still collecting major samples of the sedimentary rocks, which will be returned to Earth by the Mars Sample Return campaign, and further analysis will be done in well-equipped labs.


A “Forest Bubble” On Mars? Scientist Proposes Ambitious Plan For Sending Wildlife To Mars

by Rida Fatima

Forest Bubble on Mars
(Figure 1: 3D Illustration of a Mars outpost colony with a geodesic dome. Credit:

A report from the CNET network reveals that a detailed proposal has been made by a botanist and an ecologist for a flourishing green space on the desolate and barren surface of Mars. The ENTR, abbreviated as “extraterrestrial nature reserve,” would appear as a “forest bubble” resembling a greenhouse that was created to replicate Earth’s biosphere on the red planet (Young, 2022). Ultimately, it would make life easy and allow the earthlings to feel like home on Mars and also for the early inhabitants it will act as sustainable source of raw material and as well as source of food to survive in a proper manner.

Aspire to make an Earth-like Environment on Red planet

Paul Smith, a botanist from the University of Bristol, outlined the plan for developing a thriving, controlled ecosystem on Mars in a study that was published in one of the most authentic journals related to Astrobiology research last month. The study begins by summarizing the difficulties colonists will face on the Red planet, which includes a difficult environment that is inhospitable for human beings, as well as radiation and less favorable sunshine than on planet Earth. The botanist also argues that some Earth species may be able to adapt to life on the red planet despite these difficulties (Young, 2022).

According to Smith, Mars might support a variety of fauna, including fungi, invertebrates like earthworms and spiders, and soil bacteria. If we talk about the plants such as junipers and birches it would be very hard for them to survive in such an environment with a little amount of sunlight, as for the flora. Smith underlined the need to avoid trying to recreate a copy of a forest which completely resembles the forests on Earth on mars because doing so would prevent nonhuman species like raccoons, fish, and birds from being able to live in their natural habitats. According to Smith, “ETNR designers should take species into account as ecological cogs that may be assembled into functional ecosystems.” While it is now impossible to replicate Earth’s forests, it is possible to create new ecosystems that function in novel ways.

A “Futuristic Noah’s Ark”- Style Starship

Although Smith acknowledges in his article that he hasn’t thought about the enterprise’s finances, the idea of a Mars ecosystem that delivers life outside for humans on the red planet is one that is attractive. Prior to its first orbital trip, SpaceX recently tested the Starship prototype’s static fire capability. The business is working on an entirely reusable Starship spacecraft to make the flight to space within a reasonable budget and enable human journeys to the Red Planet. But it doesn’t mean it won’t be a very expensive endeavor for people and freight, let alone animals (HeadTopics, 2022).

However, according to Smith’s concept, little invertebrates would be the most suitable for a Martian ecology because they would weigh little and might be able to travel with other cargo. The ETNR is also described in Smith’s plan as a possible option for some species to survive. “If the population of humans continues to rise on Earth, natural places will have to be sacrificed.” Another option is to terraform Mars to add more habitats. All of this is consistent with Elon Musk’s lofty plan for Starship, which he compared to a “futuristic Noah’s Ark” earlier this year. But first, SpaceX needs to launch its enormous reusable spacecraft into orbit (Young, 2022).


Peekaboo Galaxy Emerges From Hiding, Offering A Direct Window Into The Past

by Rida Fatima

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope managed to capture a comprehensive picture of the tiny galaxy HIPASS J1131-31
(Figure 1: Despite its proximity to a bright foreground star, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope managed to capture a comprehensive picture of the tiny galaxy HIPASS J1131-31, also termed the “Peekaboo Galaxy.” Aside from Hubble images, astronomers used the South African Large Telescope to collect detailed spectroscopic data on the galaxy’s stars. Through this approach, it was revealed that Peekaboo is one of the tiniest chemically enriched galaxies ever noticed in the local universe. Credits: NASA, ESA, and Igor Karachentsev (SAO RAS); Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI))

A Peek Into The Past

A galaxy named HIPASS J1131-31, or Peekaboo has now come into view through an incredible picture captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Peekaboo galaxy is only 22 million light-years away from the Milky way galaxy. More than 20 years ago, Astronomers first detected the presence of this galaxy with the help of Australian Parkes radio telescope Murriyang, since then it was not quite visible for observation as its view was hidden by a bright star (TYC 7215-199-1) in the Milky Way. According to research, the HIPASS J1131-31 galaxy is the nearest example of the galaxy formation and development processes that occurred shortly after the big bang, which was around 13.8 billion years ago.

“Uncovering the Peekaboo Galaxy is like discovering a direct window into the past, allowing us to study its extreme environment and stars at a level of detail that is inaccessible in the distant, early Universe,” – Astronomer Gangadeep Anand

Peekaboo galaxy is described as “extremely metal-poor” by astronomers (XMP). In the beginning, the universe was constituted primarily of primitive hydrogen and helium, these were the elements created during the big bang. Throughout cosmic history, these elements formed stars that begin producing much heavier elements, eventually leading to the metal-rich universe of today. Carbon, oxygen, iron, and calcium are heavier elements “basic building blocks” that make up life as we know it. These elements were distributed throughout the universe after the supernova of metal-poor stars. Low metallicity in a galaxy is of particular interest to astronomers. It may provide critical insights not only into the chemical evolution of stars but also highlights the astrophysical events occurring in the expanding universe.

What Makes ‘Peekaboo Galaxy’ Different From Others?

Metal-poor galaxies are not very rare in the universe as they have already been discovered in our local galaxy by astronomers. However, Peekaboo is distinctive in two major ways. Firstly, it is much closer consisting of at least half the distance between it and formally known related galaxies. Moreover, it’s a metal-poor galaxy with no older stars nearby. Professor Bärbel Koribalski is an astronomer and a research scientist at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO. She is also the co-author of the latest research study on Peekaboo’s metallicity.

The Hubble telescope was able to study the composition of approximately 60 stars in the Peekaboo galaxy. Almost all of these stars appeared to be a few billion years old or younger. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) measurements of Peekaboo’s metallicity managed to complete the snapshot. The significant difference between HIPASS J1131-31 and other galaxies in the known universe was highlighted by these findings. Other galaxies typically have stars that seem to be billions of years old. As determined by the stars in Peekaboo, it is the youngest and slightly chemically-enriched galaxy ever revealed in the local universe. This is exceedingly rare, given that the local universe has had roughly 13 billion years to build the cosmic historical background.

Koribalski said while talking about the Peekaboo, “In the start, we were unaware of how special this little galaxy was, but now we know that the Peekaboo Galaxy is one of the most metal-poor galaxies ever detected, all credits go to data collected from the Hubble Space Telescope, (SALT) the Southern African Large Telescope, and others.”

“Because Peekaboo is so close to us, we can conduct detailed observations, allowing us to see an atmosphere like the early universe in extraordinary detail,” the astronomer Gangadeep Anand concluded.


Professor Bärbel discovered HIPASS J1131–31 or the Peekaboo galaxy as a region of cold hydrogen, as mentioned above. The discovery took place 20 years ago. Later on, NASA’s space-based Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission identified Peekaboo to be a compact blue dwarf galaxy using far-ultraviolet observational data. Now, Astronomers will be using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) alongside the Hubble Space Telescope to keep improving the snapshot of HIPASS J1131-31 obtained by Hubble findings as part of Every Known Nearby Galaxy Survey.