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Space X to Deliver Hemp Seeds to the International Space Station

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Dec 12, 2019   
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Come next spring, a Colorado company will send hemp seeds where no hemp seeds have gone before.

Provided by the agricultural technology company Front Range Biosciences and couriered by Space X, these high flying hemp plants will help test zero gravity’s effects on cannabis’ metabolic pathways.

Along with the University of Colorado, Boulder (UCB), the companies will launch more than 480 plant cell cultures in March 2020.

Space botany

Astronauts have been studying plants like lettuce and radishes in space since the 1980s. But the interstellar effects of weightless cultivation have yet to be tested on cannabis – an oversight Front Range Biosciences is keen to rectify.

“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” Dr Jonathan Vaught, Front Range Biosciences’ CEO, said in a statement.

“There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”

Protected in a space-made incubator and monitored remotely by UCB researchers, the 480 hemp cultures will be aboard the International Space Station for about 30 days. After that, the cells will return to Earth for testing. Any changes in the plants’ RNA, a coding product of DNA, will help determine how the space station’s microgravity has altered the plants gene expression.

“Our breeding program is really about understanding the underlying biology and the genome behind this plant so that we can accelerate the breeding process and create improved varieties with new traits that are commercially relevant,” Vaught told Analytical Cannabis in April this year when speaking about Front Range Biosciences’ cultivation ethos.

By changing the plants’ environment so radically, the researchers also hope the study will inform future growing practices closer to home, on an Earth coping with climate change. And if cannabis cultivation were ever to go interstellar, the results could help direct new strategies for zero-gravity hemp horticulture.

Front Range Biosciences’ endeavour may be one of the most advanced efforts to send cannabis high above the sky, but it’s not the first. In 2017, an Arizonian dispensary launched a pound of mint-flavored cannabis 131,208 feet into the air with the help of a weather balloon.

But although it may not be the first company to take cannabis to space, Front Range Biosciences may end up sending up the most.

“We envision this to be the first of many experiments together,” Louis Stodieck, a chief ccientist at BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a statement. “In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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