The common yeast could give the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) the clue it needs to see if humans can survive in deep space. It plans to soon launch yeast, which is a unicellular fungi, in a nano-satellite for an 18-month mission over five lakh kilometres beyond the moon to see how it performs in these conditions.
Speaking to this newspaper on the sidelines of Shaastra, IIT-M’s annual technical festival, Ms Sharmila Bhattac-harya, director of research in the Biomodel Perfor-mance Labora-tory of the Space Biosciences Division of the Nasa Ames Research Centre, says Nasa has started to put micro-organisms in deep space to give it some idea of how humans can survive in it.
“We want to see at a fundamental level what the problems can be when sending humans into deep space. Once you understand the problems and the molecular biological pathway you can start looking at the counter measures. We are doing this over the next few years,” she said, explaining that yeast is a single cell eukaryotic organism, which means the structure of its cell is somewhat similar to that of humans.
“Because its single cell you will see significant percentage of similarity between humans and the yeast. The basic principle of how all these eukaryotic organism function are similar, but the difference is in their complexity and in the number of genes,” she adds.
Interestingly, Nasa in its next mission launching on February 22, will send a fruit fly to outer space on a private spacecraft (SpaceX rocket-SpX-5) to study its cardio vascular functions as the human genome is 77 per cent similar to it.