Biotechnology is an emerging scientific discipline encompassing many fields
of research, such as microbiology, genomics, proteomics, and biochemistry.
Research in this field is used to help us fight diseases such as AIDS and
cancer, in the design of pharmaceutical products, in the study of pollution and
environmental change, in the field of advanced waste processing and the
management of natural resources.
Typically, biotechnology works with biological chemicals such as DNA,
proteins and antibodies, as well as microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria,
fungi, simple cells. Ultimately it aims to create industrial applications for
microorganisms that can improve our quality of life.
Space provides a unique platform for the following kinds of experiment:
In space the effective absence of gravity makes it possible to grow
crystals of some proteins other biological compounds that are of better
quality than on Earth. These crystals allow us to understand the structure,
purpose and behavior of the protein or biochemical. There is equipment aboard
the ISS that we could use for a bio-crystallization experiment.
The study of genetics and natural selection (evolution) in an extreme
environment such as space advances our understanding of the role genetics
plays in the adaptation of humans to space flight. The constant radiation
present in space allows us to study the interaction of genetics and radiation,
and the impact of accelerated rates of mutation on natural selection.
In space we are able to separate complex macromolecules from one another
with extraordinary precision. For example, if we have a variety of biological
compounds in solution we can separate out their components and test them
individually for pharmacological properties.
There are several experiments that use space to try to culture
microorganisms that can play a role in industrial processes such as corrosion
management, especially for the development of technology for future manned and
unmanned space flight.