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Hemp is Headed to Outer Space

Hemp in space

A biotech company is preparing to send hemp to the International Space Station to see how the versatile plant thrives in outer space.

The next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will be carrying hemp for research purposes.

Front Range Biosciences, an agricultural technology company based in Colorado, will partner with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, intend to investigate whether space’s unique zero-gravity conditions cause genetic mutations in the hemp plant, the non-intoxicating variety of cannabis.

Plant cell cultures of both hemp and coffee will be transported to the ISS via the SpaceX resupply mission coming up in March 2020.

Scientists from Front Range Biosciences hope to improve their understanding of how the plants adapt, with the goal of it leading to new breeding developments that lead to hardier, more resistant crops.

“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” Jonathan Vaught, CEO of Front Range Biosciences said in a statement. “There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”

Roughly 480 plant cell cultures will be kept in an incubator that regulates temperature.

Why Hemp in Space?

Scientists will monitor the impact of low gravity on the plant cell cultures remotely from Earth. The experiment in space will last for a month, and then the cultures will return to Earth with SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft so that researchers can see whether differences in gravity have impacted the plants’ gene expressions.

At a high level, the purpose of the experiment is to learn how to engineer plants that can continue to thrive even in areas impacted by the effects of climate change.

“These are big ideas we’re pursuing and there’s a massive opportunity to bring to market new plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions,” Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, said in a statement. “We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”

The experiment also comes as commercial space travel is becoming closer to reality. The wheel-spaced Von Braun Rotating Space Station, on track to be completed in 2025, could be the first-ever commercial space construction project.

Hemp is a cannabis plant variety that contains very little THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicating compound known for its association with marijuana. Hemp was declassified as a Schedule I substance just last December under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp has thousands of product applications, from making clothing to creating green building materials to serving as a source of cannabidiol (CBD) products. The crop has a long history in America.

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