How cool is this? Des Moines Area Community College Biotechnology program graduate Lyndsay Baker's experiment will be sent to the International Space Station for research. Lyndsay hopes that the algae grown as part of her experiment will produce the compound astaxanthin to help keep astronauts healthy.
Lyndsay's project, Microalgae Biosynthesis in Microgravity (MicroAlgae), studies the effects of microgravity on Haematococcus pluvialis, an algae capable of producing a powerful antioxidant, astaxanthin. It could provide a readily available dietary supplement to promote astronaut health on long-duration space exploration missions. Lyndsay is an alumna of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. NCAS is engaging community colleges across the US to conduct ground studies for comparison to the on-orbit investigation.
The idea behind this project is if algae can provide a reliable source of astaxanthin, the astronauts may have a readily available dietary supplement that could contribute to prevention of the effects of radiation exposure, eye damage, cardiovascular system damage, and bone loss, helping protect astronaut health and well-being on long-term missions. The algae produce the bright red antioxidant carotenoid when exposed to stress conditions such as high salinity, lack of nitrogen, or high temperature and light. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant color and are antioxidants that protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
This experiment is not just for space. The algae are farmed on Earth but widespread production of the antioxidant has not been achieved. If it can be achieved the astaxanthin could perhaps be used in low resource areas as a dietary health supplement.