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Life in space – UF/IFAS faculty awarded three grants for further exploration

The NASA Biological and Physical Sciences Division’s Space Biology Program recently announced 18 grants that will advance our understanding of how living systems respond to life in space. Three of those grants were awarded to UF/IFAS faculty to further research that will support human space exploration.

“Receiving three of the six microbiology grants really shows how strong UF/IFAS is in space flight research,” said Mark Settles, UF/IFAS horticultural sciences program chair and professor. “We are excited to continue research that will contribute to the health of astronauts exploring Mars.”

The three grants will support research all focused on improving health and wellness of astronauts in space for long durations, like the future Mars mission.

  • Alteration of Bacillus subtilis DNA Architecture in Space: Global Effects on DNA Supercoiling, Methylation, and the Transcriptome

Wayne Nicholson, UF/IFAS microbiology and cell science professor, works to understand the fundamental processes by which bacteria adapt and respond to the human spaceflight environment using the model organism Bacillus subtilis. In this project, he is investigating how spaceflight microgravity affects the basic processes involved in regulating gene expression.

  • Assessing the impact of Agr Quorum Sensing on Staphylococcus aureus Physiology in the Space Flight Environment

Kelly Rice, UF/IFAS microbiology and cell science associate professor, will study the effect of the space environment on how Staphylococcus aureus (a bacterium that lives on skin and can cause a variety of infections) cells communicate and regulate their infectious potential. This will help develop better preventative and treatment measures to maintain astronaut health during long-term missions.

  • Understanding Genome-Wide Mutation Load in Spaceflight Culture of Cyanobacteria

Settles will continue research on crops that provide a high harvest index for astronauts in space as well as valuable nutrients. This grant’s research focus will be on spirulina, algae hailed as a superfood packed with protein, to understand how it will maintain its nutrient value or mutate under space conditions.

The University of Florida works to advance opportunities for the public to understand and engage in NASA’s space projects through research and public outreach efforts.

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