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Islander Researchers to Launch Fungus into Space on August 14

August 11, 2017

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The International Space Station (ISS) is a unique scientific platform that enables researchers from around the world to perform experiments that could not be achieved on Earth. The next ISS mission will include fungus collected and studied by Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Reese, principal investigator, is working with Morgan Sobol, an Island University master’s student in marine biology, and Dr. Heath Mills, the CEO of Space Technology and Advanced Research Systems (STaARS).

Their project, Intraterrestrial Fungus Grown in Space (iFunGIS), is one of more than 20 science and research investigations that will blast-off into space on Monday, Aug. 14, on the SpaceX  Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule. The Dragon is a free-flying commercial spacecraft designed to deliver both cargo and people to the orbiting destination. The launch is expected to take place at 11:31 a.m. CST, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The public is invited to view the launch by clicking here.

“We are excited about this project and have been preparing for it for more than two years,” said Reese. “We hoped it would take off in April, but weather and equipment delays have pushed the launch back until now.”

iFunGIS focuses on the genetic potential of a fungus related to Penicillium chrysogenum. iFunGIS cultures are a rare type of fungus in the microgravity environment of space to search for new antibiotics. Penicillium chrysogenum differs from other fungi because it comes from deep in the Earth’s subsurface and shows potential as a source for new antibacterial compounds. The iFunGIS experiment will send frozen samples of fungal spores to the ISS, grow the fungus in different nutrient mixtures over different time intervals, refreeze the samples and then return them to Earth, where the Island University team will examine how they grew and what chemicals they may have produced.

“This is a unique fungus because we isolated it from 73-million-year-old sediment that was buried 124 meters below the seafloor,” said Reese. “This will be the first time an intraterrestrial microorganism will be grown in space.”

Once the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule reaches the ISS, the station crew will unpack the spacecraft and begin working with other experiments aimed at improving life on Earth, including research on Parkinson’s disease, new approaches to treating blood pressure, and pioneering new advances in the use of stem cells for repairing damage from disease, among many others.

“We are thrilled and honored to be a part of the 20 research experiments going to the ISS,” said Sobol. “I am looking forward to what this project tells us about life in extreme environments.” 

View a full list of experiments by clicking here.

So far in 2017, the ISS National Lab has hosted more than 100 separate experiments that have reached the station. The SpaceX Falcon 9 will return to Earth in mid-September.