ISRO gear up to launch bacteria cells into space

Bangalore: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch bacteria cells into space and bring them back in the second Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-2) by the end of this year.

Kamanio Chattopadhyay, national coordinator of the Indian Microgravity Programme said, "We will conduct two life science experiments with the help of E.coli and photosynthetic bacteria that will be helpful for us to understand cell division, genomics (genetic changes) and proteomics (changes in proteins) in microgravity conditions."

Kamanio Chattopadhyay is coordinating scientific experiments for the mission.

In the first experiment, an E.coli cell would be grown in a bio-reactor and brought back to the earth to carry out genomic studies.

"When the experiment is recovered, we will explore why microgravity alters the growth of cells." The experiment could be seen as a prelude to ISRO's manned space mission slated for 2015, he said.

"We know that astronauts experience physiological changes when they go into space, the most common being bone loss. NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] has done experiments to prove that microgravity impacts genes. We need to understand this phenomenon better."

The payload would be developed in collaboration with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.

In the other experiment, photosynthetic bacteria would be cultured to study the effect of microgravity on photosynthesis. Much like plants, cynobacteria carry out photosynthesis. This experiment would be developed jointly by CCMB, ISRO and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The effect of space radiation and microgravity on seeds of rice and medicinal plants would be the subject of a third experiment developed by the Pune and Kerala universities. Using a dosimeter, the experiment would measure levels of radiation exposure on the seeds.

The satellite would also have a materials science experiment onboard to study the role of gravity on melting and sintering of metal powder. Developed by the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, this payload would use a model copper-tin alloy as the subject.

The experiments would remain in orbit for 10 days, said Dr. Chattopadhyay. "While SRE-1 [launched in 2007] proved we had mastered technology for safe vehicle re-entry, SRE-2 will focus on life science experiments in microgravity." SRE-1 was launched on January 10, 2007 and it successfully re-entered the earth's atmosphere 12 days later.

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