1. Agriculture World

NASA Researchers Develop Bone-Stimulating Hormone in Lettuce

Transgenic lettuce could be a game-changer, according to NASA, which plans to launch a three-year mission in the 2030s. It's significant because astronauts lose more than 1% of their bone mass each month they spend in space.

Shivam Dwivedi

According to the American Chemical Society, NASA researchers may have discovered a solution for human bone loss in space in the form of new transgenic lettuce that produces a bone-stimulating hormone. The lettuce is also said to have the ability to prevent osteoporosis in areas with limited resources, in addition to the hormone's benefits in space.

Transgenic lettuce could be a game-changer, according to NASA, which plans to launch a three-year mission in the 2030s. It's significant because astronauts lose more than 1% of their bone mass each month they spend in space.

In a recent press release, Kevin Yates, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, who presented his work at the American Chemical Society media briefing, states, "Right now, astronauts on the International Space Station have certain exercise regimens to try to maintain bone mass." "However, they rarely spend more than six months on the International Space Station."

Any space mission, if no precautions are taken, has the potential to cause osteopenia and, eventually, osteoporosis in the astronauts.

A medication containing a peptide fragment of human parathyroid hormone is another option for preventing bone loss (PTH). PTH stimulates bone formation, but the medication must be injected daily, which is a drawback.

Easy Solution to Bone Loss

"Astronauts can carry transgenic seeds, which are very small- a few thousand seeds in a vial about the size of your thumb- and grow them just like regular lettuce," says Somen Nandi, a scientist at the University of California, Davis and the Managing Director of the Global HealthShare Initiative (GHS). "They could eat the plants after using them to synthesize pharmaceuticals such as PTH on an as-needed basis."

Humans need to consume around 380 grams (8 cups) per day to get the full effect, according to Yates. Scientists are currently working on a more concentrated seed.

Karen McDonald, a Chemical Engineering professor at the University of California, Davis, shared, "One thing we're doing now is screening all of these transgenic lettuce lines to find the one with the highest PTH-Fc expression. We've only looked at a few of them so far, and we found that the average was 10-12 mg/kg, but we believe we can improve that. The more we can increase the expression, the less lettuce we'll need to eat."

At the International Space Station, successful trials have been completed. Despite the fact that clinical trials on humans and animals are still required after optimizing PTH-Fc expression levels, scientists appear optimistic. "I would be very surprised if plants aren't being used to produce pharmaceuticals and other beneficial compounds by the time we send astronauts to Mars," Yates predicts.

(Source: Seed World)

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