Researchers Grow ‘Space Lettuce’ That May Help Astronauts Maintain Bone Health

A new study has suggested that ‘space lettuce’ can help astronauts maintain strong bone health during long trips. The study, carried out by researchers from the University of California, Davis, saw the creation of an experimental strain of lettuce that they say can help those staying in space for long durations to maintain good bone health. Staying in space on long trips is a tough job. Several issues related to physical and mental health are required to be addressed before astronauts make a trip to space.

Astronauts undergo rigorous training to remain in shape during their mission deployment. Still, there are factors beyond their control that could affect their health. For instance, long exposure to microgravity rapidly weakens bones. Some studies say astronauts could lose about 1 percent of the mass of some bones every month in space. And, on their return, recovery could take a while on Earth.

NASA’s famous Twins Study states that space travel might impact gene expression that in turn could affect bone health. Astronauts do exercises to mitigate these effects.

But the new research, presented this week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, states that ‘space lettuce’ produces a medication that contains a fragment of human parathyroid hormone (PTH) peptide, which helps stimulate bone growth, among other functions.

Injecting PTH to astronauts to treat bone loss might not be an ideal long-term solution to prolong their stay in space, especially to far-off destinations like Mars. But they can grow this lettuce easily and eat it regularly to maintain their bone health.

“Astronauts can carry transgenic seeds, which are very tiny — you can have a few thousand seeds in a vial about the size of your thumb — and grow them just like regular lettuce,” study author Somen Nandi, a chemical engineer, said in a statement.

Astronauts have already grown Earth-like lettuce on the International Space Station (ISS). While staying in space, they live on processed and packaged rations such as fruits, nuts, chocolate, shrimp cocktails, peanut butter, and chicken, etc. Growing lettuce has opened possibilities for other vegetables to be grown someday.

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