Colonists on Mars will eat transgenic lettuce to save their bones

Researchers have introduced a gene encoding parathyroid hormone (PTH) into lettuce DNA, infecting plant cells

bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This type of bacterium is able to form tumors in plants, providing a horizontal transfer of genetic material from bacteria to plants.

The study showed that the modified formlettuce on average releases 10 to 12 mg of peptide hormone per kilogram of lettuce. This means that the astronauts will need to eat about 380 grams of this lettuce per day.

To increase the stability of PTH in the body, scientistsa modified version of the hormone was used: a crystallizing fragment of immunoglobulin (Fc) was added to the protein. Previous studies have established that this modification increases the circulation time of the hormone in the blood and increases its effectiveness.

Analysis of the effect of weightlessness on astronautsshowed that for a month spent in space, they lose on average about 1% of bone mass. This leads to the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis: a decrease in bone density and an increase in bone fragility.

“Now the astronauts at the InternationalThe space station has a certain set of exercises that allows you to partially preserve bone mass, says Kevin Yates, one of the researchers. “However, they usually stay in space for no more than six months.”

The flight from Earth to Mars in one direction takes about 10 months, another year will be spent on exploring the planet. The total duration of the expedition will be about 3 years.

Scientists note that for the treatment of osteopenia there aremedicine containing PTH, which is able to restore bone mass. However, it requires daily injections. To do this, the expedition members will need to take a large supply of medicine and syringes with them.

Instead, astronauts can usetransgenic seeds and grow lettuce as needed right on board the ship. Several thousand seeds can fit in a test tube the size of a thumb, the researchers note. And the ability to grow lettuce in space was demonstrated on the ISS back in 2020.

Scientists plan to conduct additional geneticexperiments aimed at increasing the amount of PTH produced in the leaves of transgenic lettuce. This will reduce the amount of lettuce that the astronauts will consume every day. In addition, the researchers intend to test how the new lettuce will grow on the ISS.

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