Photosynthetic microalgae in space biology research and long-term exploratory missions.



Photosynthetic microalgae in space biology research and long-term exploratory missions.


Maria Teresa Giardi
Giuseppina Rea
Francesca Vergari
Amina Antonacci*
Sandro Pastorelli*
Maya Lambreva*
Davide Raffi*
Arianna Tibuzzi*
Viviana Scognamiglio*
Gianni Pezzotti*
Ittalo Pezzotti*
Daniela Giannini*
Juan Bernardo Cano*
[*] Personale non strutturato


Photosynthesis, space ionizing radiation, oxygen evolution, directed evolution, D1 protein


Prof. Dr. Udo Johanningmeier, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany (; Dr. Angela Maria Rizzo, Institute of General Physiology and Biochemistry "G. Esposito" - University of Milan (; Dr. Fabio Polticelli, University Roma Tre (; University of Crete, Greece (; Prof. Ambesi, University of Udine (; Kayser Italia Srl ( Biosensor Srl (


The solar system space environment offers the opportunities to study life in an extraordinary harsh environment, in which microgravity and ionizing radiations are unique inherent physical factors, potentially hazardous for all living systems. Space research studies the effects of the space environment on living organisms, to alleviate and prevent the deleterious effects associated to space flights or habitation in non-Earth environments. In humans, microgravity and radiation affect several molecular and physiological functions, mimicking and accelerating the aging process. Research in the space field will help to develop strategies and counter-measurements to prevent or repair age-related damages such as calcium bone loss, genetic mutations, neuro- and macular degenerations.
The planning of human exploratory missions to Moon and Mars and long-term permanence on the International Space Station require the development of technologies enabling the regeneration in loco of adequate support to human life. Like on Earth, the biomass production could be based on oxygenic photosynthesis, a unique process that uses light energy to evolve oxygen and produce storable energy-rich products from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

We are exploring the possibility to use the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii as regenerative-life supporting system as it has a low sensitivity to microgravity, short life cycle, easy cultivation in photobioreactors and high biomass productivity. It is also a rich source of secondary metabolites with anti-oxidant proprieties, that we are able to increase by applying stress conditions, to provide nutraceutical anti-oxidant-enriched biomass as dietary supplement for crew. Our attention is focused on lutein and zeaxanthin pigments as photoprotectors of the algal and human eyes. However, microalgae are not adapted to the conditions in spacecrafts and planetary environments. In vitro directed evolution strategies targeted to the photosynthesis D1 protein, a central point regulation in defence responses, were adopted to create ionizing radiation tolerant chlamydomonas strains, selected by exposures to radicals-generating proton or neutron sources with energies similar to those occurring in space. In addition, these strains are able to produce more oxygen in stressful conditions, an important feature for air revitalization purposes, and for the development of artificial lungs in transplantations.
These mutants were selected for flying in past and future missions on Foton and the International Space Station by ASI-ESA-NASA funded projects.

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Photosynthetic microalgae in space biology research and long-term exploratory missions. - Img



Giuseppina Rea
Tel.: +390690672631


Last Updated (Tuesday, 21 December 2010 16:05)