Dr Sarah Kessans, a lecturer in the University of Canterbury’s School of Product Design, is passionate about growing stuff in space, ultimately food, fuel and pharmaceuticals to benefit society.
Dr Kessans received $200,000 of 2019 Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge (SfTI) Seed Project Funding to develop a space biology laboratory to work towards growing microorganisms in free flying satellites. This was followed by further funding as part of the The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)’s Catalyst: Strategic Space 2019 fund.
“My passion is synthetic biology – I want to develop organisms both for Earth but also off the Earth as well for food and fuel and pharmaceuticals. I want to be able to grow microorganisms in space that are optimised for doing these things” she says.
SfTI’s Seed Fund supports researchers who have innovative ideas with potential for huge impact. Few have a bigger impact than Dr Kessans, whose work could enable the production of life-supporting resources in microgravity.
Free flying satellite laboratories: a game changer for pharmaceutical companies
At this stage Dr Kessans’s space laboratory is designed for a process called protein crystallisation. There are several things that science has established are better done in micro or zero gravity. Protein crystallisation is one of them.
When a protein crystallises in microgravity, as opposed to on Earth, the result is often larger, higher-quality crystals, which allows for a more accurate picture of that protein. This knowledge better equips scientists to understand that protein, and pharmaceutical companies use that information to make more effective medicines to cure disease.