Biology in space

Microgravity can be treated as an alternative environment to provide the research in the field of biomedical and biochemical sciences. In the state of weightlessness, the behavior of microobjects, as well as the nature of phenomena, is different than in conventional terrestrial conditions. To date, e.g. the increased production of bio-film by bacteria, as well as significant changes in the properties of cancer cells towards “less aggressive” way were observed. For this reason, the development of new biomedical methodologies and, consequently, orbital therapies, becomes a promising and increasingly realistic vision that has the potential to revolutionize biopharmaceutical strategies shortly. This vision creates the need to develop new analytical instruments that could enable reliable, high-performance and fast medical diagnostics. Miniature and fully autonomous lab-on-chip microscale laboratories are an opportunity to conduct this type of research in space.

SRC FEPM has been developing lab-on-chip technologies for nearly two decades. As part of national and European projects, our tasks were to, e.g.: develop a portable device for detecting cocaine from human sweat, fabricate a mobile lab-on-chip laboratory for collecting environmental samples and identifying biological hazards utilizing gel electrophoresis and RT-PCR methods, or propose microfluidic systems with MEMS/MOEMS components ensuring long-term cultivation and quality evaluation of biological objects. As a result of these works, analytical instruments with a high degree of integration were fabricated, reaching the technological readiness level of TRL 8/9 A particularly interesting project implemented in 2019-2021 was the development of lab-on-chip instruments for conducting biomedical research in microgravity conditions. We used our technological knowledge and many years of experience to fabricate an autonomous microfluidic system, the so-called payload, as part of a CubeSat nanosatellite, in which the experiments on the cultivation of microscopic fungi and plant seeds were carried out. The operation of the microfluidic payload has been tested in space, indicating the correct operation of all components of the device.