Increased production of antibiotics in space reported by University of Colorado researchers

Several space shuttle experiments flown by the University of Colorado at Boulder-based BioServe Space Technologies Center in October 1998 show promise for developing new biomedical products, according to recent research results.

Aerospace engineering sciences Assistant Professor David Klaus said an antibiotic production experiment involving microbes showed the production of the antibiotic actinomycin D was 75 percent higher in space than in ground-control experiments. The tests, conducted in collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Wallingford, Conn., took place during the flight of Discovery that returned astronaut John Glenn to space.

Similar experiments flown by BioServe in the past and carried out in test tubes also showed increases in antibiotic production, although relatively small quantities were produced, said Klaus, Bioserve's associate director for research and the mission manager for the flight.

Actinomycin D is an anti-cancer therapeutic, but its use is still largely experimental due to relatively high toxicity levels.

The modification of the apparatus containing the antibiotic experiments for the flight appears to have made a difference, said Klaus. "We added a new gas-exchange fermentation device, which appears to have stimulated the antibiotic production by 20-fold over the test tube values."

"This device was designed to provide more optimal growth conditions for microorganisms, and should help researchers gain insight into the causes of increased antibiotic productivity," he said. "This represents one more incremental step in eventually being able to reproduce these beneficial responses on Earth."

Headquartered in CU-Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science, BioServe is a joint venture between NASA, CU-Boulder and Kansas State University that undertakes a variety of industry-driven, life-science experiments on shuttle flights and involves bo

Contact: David Klaus
University of Colorado at Boulder

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