Hydra 1: Synthetic Biology, Plants, and Space

Hydra 1 aims to study the effectiveness of a genetic switch in space. In short, a plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, was modified using the tools of synthetic biology with an inducible promoter (genetic switch). The experiment will verify that this element is still functional in the space flight environment on-board the International Space Station. These types of switches area fundamental tool in the study of plants but have not been shown to be functional in space. If successful, this switch will enable deeper studies of how plants function in space and even engineered strains which are better suited to the space environment.

In addition, the hardware is the first flight of an opensource, 1.25U design. It contains a camera, water release valve, and growth lights among other components. A flight to the International Space Station will verify the design and aid in extending the design for future lunar landers.

Team members include the Hammond Lab at the University of Utah, Chris McKay of NASA Ames, the International Space University, and Space Applications Services. I helped to outline project aims and scope, and lead final integration efforts.  

Hydra 1 launched December 5 and will be commissioned in the coming days.