A new study has suggested that ‘space lettuce’ could help astronauts maintain strong bones during long journeys. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, saw the creation of an experimental lettuce variety that they say could help people who stay in space for a long time to maintain good bone health. Staying in space on long journeys is a tough job. Before astronauts take a trip to space, several physical and mental health issues must be addressed.
Astronauts undergo rigorous training to stay in shape during their mission deployment. Still, there are factors beyond their control that can affect their health. Long exposure to microgravity, for example, quickly weakens bones. Some studies say astronauts can lose about 1 percent of the mass of some bones in space each month. And on their return, the recovery on Earth may take a while.
NASA’s famous Twins Study states that space travel can affect gene expression which in turn can 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 drug containing a fragment of human parathyroid hormone (PTH) peptide, which, among other things, stimulates bone growth.
Injecting PTH into astronauts to treat bone loss may not be the ideal long-term solution to extend their space stay, especially to distant destinations like Mars. But they can easily grow this lettuce and eat it regularly to keep their bones healthy.
“Astronauts can carry transgenic seeds, which are very small — you can have a few thousand seeds in a vial about the size of your thumb — and grow them just like regular lettuce,” said study co-author Somen Nandi, a chemical engineer. in a statement.
Astronauts have already grown earthy lettuce on the International Space Station (ISS). While residing 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 up the possibility of growing other vegetables someday.