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In another giant step for mankind, SpaceX will send hemp and coffee to space. In conjunction with the Colorado-based Front Range Biosciences, a SpaceX cargo flight is set to send hemp and coffee cultures to the International Space Station (ISS). The plan is to test whether zero gravity has any effect on the genes in the plant cultures.

Who is Front Range Biosciences?

Front Range Biosciences (FRB) is an agricultural biotech company that specializes in tissue culture propagation and the industrial-scale breeding of high-value crops to improve consistency and efficiency for clone and seed production. Their focus in on improving commercially-relevant traits for cannabis and hemp plants. Their Clean Stock program provides farmers with disease and pathogen-free hemp and coffee plants.

What’s the Plan?

FRB partnered with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado. The team is planning on launching over 480 plant cell cultures in a space-grade incubator inside a SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight. The flight is scheduled to launch March 2020 to resupply the ISS.

FRB will provide the coffee and hemp tissue cultures, while SpaceCell will offer their expertise, management, and funding to continue the project. BioServe will provide space-approved hardware to contain the cultures under controlled conditions. The incubator will regulate temperature during the tissue culture’s 30-day experiment.

BioServe will remotely monitor the cultures and they will be returned to Earth after the month is over. Upon landing, researchers will examine the tissue cultures to identify and RNA mutations or any other genetic changes experienced due to microgravity and space radiation exposure.

In a press statement, co-founder and CEO of FRB Dr. Jonathan Vaught said, “this is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures. 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.”

Future Applications

Many people are excited about the ability to create interstellar hemp of coffee. Researchers believe the findings could aid farmers and scientists looking to grow new varieties of these plants. For scientists, exposure to the elements of space can enable them to understand how certain plants manage space travel-related stress.

The project is part of a growing movement and philosophy referred to as new space. The new space industry caters to an imminent era of private space travel. The focus is on making space travel more affordable, faster, and easier to access for the majority of people. This new project aims to move the needle forward on the research of space travel-effects on life-sustaining organisms.

Adapting the Food Supply

Projects like these are helping the agriculture industry adapt to today’s challenges. The aim is to improve access to food across the world and create new varieties able to adapt to the changing climate. In 2018, FRB partnered with Frinj Coffee to create coffee plants that can grow in Southern California. Coffee is traditionally grown in subtropical climates.

Sending the hemp and coffee tissue cultures into space can help the companies create new and commercially-viable chemotypes that can grow nearly anywhere in the world. Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, said in the press release that they hope to create “plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions.”

Marijuana in Space

FRB, SpaceCells, and BioServe intend to conduct a series of investigations to improve the hardiness and yield of Earth-grown crops. Louis Stodieck, Chief Scientist of BioServe said, “in the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off.”

In June 2013, Seed Hub and High Times sent 95 marijuana seeds, a plant clone, and a large joint 19 miles above the Earth on a weather balloon. In 2017, two dispensaries, Herban Planet and Level Up, as well as space marketing company Sent to Space launched one pound of high-quality Thin Mint GSC in a weather balloon 131,208 feet. The short trip into space was used to test if there were any genetic mutations during its brief period in space.

In 2017, Viceland sent a spliff into space reaching 32.4km into the atmosphere. In May 2019, Space Tango, a microgravity research and manufacturing company, launched the first hemp seeds into space. Once they “splashed down” back to Earth, the seeds were grown and analyzed for differences in DNA expression.

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The commercialization of hemp and marijuana is a far cry from the era of prohibition that was going strong just decades ago. This collaboration project is another major victory for the marijuana movement and its normalization. Today’s dream of growing marijuana and hemp in space can be tomorrow’s reality. Stay tuned for more updates with the CTU blog. This is big news, SpaceX Will Send Hemp and Coffee To Space!

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