Vaccines in Space: Taking Biotech to Microgravity Labs
Last month the public watched as astronauts on the space shuttle Atlantis conducted risky spacewalks to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. But there was another, quieter task that the astronauts pursued – a commercial drug experiment aimed at finding a vaccine against a deadly staph infection besetting hospitals.
Previous NASA spaceflight experiments have shown that microbes grow better in space, but the cause is still being debated. One popular theory is that nutrients can be absorbed more efficiently through cell walls and from multiple directions without the presence of gravity. Another, more obscure, theory: There is a latent genetic code in the microbes that is expressed in microgravity.
Thomas Pickens (son of the billionaire energy entrepreneur, T. Boone Pickens) doesn’t care all that much why this phenomena occurs?â€”he just wants to cash in on it. As the president and CEO of Astrotech, Pickens established a subsidiary to develop vaccines using the fruits of space research like last month’s experiment. “We found it commercially viable to send microbes to space,” he says. “They just jump off the charts in terms of growth.”
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