RESEARCHERS at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have developed a modular, self-contained device to cultivate microorganisms, which could enable scientists to carry out biological experiments in outer space. In a study published in ‘Acta Astronautica’, the team showed how the device can be used to activate and track the growth of a bacterium called ‘Sporosarcina pasteurii ‘ over several days, with minimal human involvement, Bengaluru-based IISc said in a statement.
Understanding how such microbes behave in extreme environments could provide valuable insights for human space missions such as ‘Gaganyaan’, India’s first crewed spacecraft planned by ISRO, it said. In recent years, scientists have been increasingly exploring the use of lab-on-chip platforms ? which combine many analyses into a single integrated chip ? for such experiments. But there are additional challenges to designing such platforms for outer space, when compared to the lab. “It has to be completely self-contained,” said Koushik Viswanathan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a senior author of the study.
“Besides, you can’t simply expect the same operating conditions as you would in a normal laboratory setting...and you can’t have something that guzzles 500W, for example.” The device developed by the IISc and ISRO team uses a LED and photodiode sensor combination to track bacterial growth by measuring the optical density or scattering of light, similar to spectrophotometers used in the lab. It also has separate compartments for different experiments. Each compartment or ‘cassette’ consists of a chamber where bacteria ? suspended as spores in a sucrose solution ? and a nutrient medium can be mixed to kickstart growth, by flicking on a switch remotely.