Often times, human curiosity leads to bizarre experimentations and that is the case with American agricultural tech company Front Range Biosciences -- in partnership with the University of Colorado, Boulder -- by creating a new experiment of sending coffee plants to the International Space Station next year as a part of a zero-gravity experiment.

Tissue cultures of coffee plants will be transported to the ISS along with the resupply mission aboard SpaceX by 2020.


Coffee in space?
(Photo : Jakub Kapusnak / Unsplash)

Since space does not provide a good condition for life to thrive, it is not yet known how plants will germinate. For this experiment, however, environmental conditions for the coffee plants will be strictly observed. 480 plant cells will be placed in an incubator for 30 days, which will regulate the temperature. The incubator will also enable the astronauts to observe how the plant cells will undergo genetic mutations in a zero-gravity environment.

Researchers particularly chose the Java variety of the coffee that will be sent to the International Space Station and will be remotely observed by researchers at the BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

After 30 days, the plant cells will be returned to Earth, where the researchers at Front Range Biosciences will examine the plants to see how microgravity and radiation from space affected the plant tissues and how that environment altered their genetic composition. In a statement released by Front Range Biosciences, Chief Executive Office Jonathan Vaught explained that this is one of the pioneering experiments in researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures. "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 to it."


Even the researchers are not yet sure. It is uncertain what the results may be, but the researches behind this experiment are optimistic that whatever these results tell, it could be a big help to farmers and to scientists so that they will be able to identify new varieties or maybe observe new chemical expressions in the seeds. The results can also provide insights into how a plant mange the stress of space travel, especially since astronomers are designing plans to terraform Mars.

Experiments like this create a path to understanding how plants will adapt to extreme environments like the zero-gravity setting of the International Space Station and enable agribusinesses like Front Range Biosciences to breed crops that can withstand harsh environments and can adapt to climate change. Louis Stodieck, chief scientist of Bioserve Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said, "We envision this to be the first of many experiments together. In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their growth cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and off." He also explains that the whole sending plants to space are a fascinating area of study and has considerable potential in discovering new ways of how life finds a way.

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