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Biotechnology seeks to apply basic biological principles and techniques to the development of products and services. The unique microgravity environment of space has been shown to affect cells and tissues in ways advantageous to biotechnology research. Crystallizing proteins in space is helping in the design of new and more effective drugs; and cells cultured in microgravity are better able to form three dimensional structures, a basic requirement in engineering tissue for use in medical transplantation and disease modeling. Simulated microgravity culture techniques, such as rotating wall bioreactors, are now allowing these effects to be studied and developed in ground-based facilities, supporting basic research in space and on Earth and driving economic and social benefits through applications to the biomedical and healthcare industries.

This special topic explores the unique influences of the space environment on living systems and how they are being harnessed by biotechnologists to develop new research strategies and commercial products.


Biotechnology Program Description: NASA's Biotechnology Program, consisting of cellular and macromolecular biotechnology research is profiled in this excerpt from a 2001-2002 annual report. The document includes an overview, summary of program accomplishments, flight experiment details, and research highlights. (Posted on 10/04)

Structures of Life Description: Identifying the structures of proteins is important for both drug design and understanding physiological processes. Researchers do this by growing protein crystals and examining them using methods like x-ray diffraction. Crystals grown in space tend to be bigger and more uniform, providing better results. This NIH booklet provides an introduction. An additional chapter written by NASA covers the contribution of research in space. (Posted on 10/04)


Cell Biology and Biotechnology in Space
Description: Cell biology in space is a relatively young discipline that must meet many unique challenges not faced in standard ground laboratory work. This presentation provides an introduction that identifies those challenges, profiles ways to model microgravity without going into space, discusses the value of the research, and explores what we do and do not know about the effects of space on cells. Slides and lecture notes are downloaded separately. (Posted on 10/04)

Tissue Engineering in Microgravity
Description: Microgravity offers distinct advantages for the engineering of tissues. This presentation explains why and summarizes what we have learned so far. Slides and lecture notes are downloaded separately. (Posted on 10/04)

Still Images

Bioreactor Source: NASA
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Description: The NASA bioreactor provides a model for simulating microgravity cell cultures on the ground. The rotating vessel maintains cells in a state of continual freefall allowing for the growth of three dimensional cultures. (Posted on 10/04)

Crystal Growth in Microgravity
Crystal in Microgravity Source: NASA
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Description: This unusually large cubic crystal of satellite tobacco mosaic virus grown under microgravity conditions is more than 30 times the size of similar crystals grown on Earth. (Posted on 10/04)


Protein Crystals in Space
This outreach project is designed to expose Florida middle school and high school students to the field of structural biology and the importance of growing high quality protein crystals in microgravity. Information on presentations, workshops, and program highlights is available on the site.