In a historic first, a Colorado research laboratory plans to send coffee and hemp to the International Space Station (ISS).
The goal of the exercise is to see if the zero-gravity conditions will lead to any sort of mutations or genetic alterations to the plants—just in case we one day feel like enjoying CBD-infused coffee in outer space.
Agricultural technology company and hemp research firm Front Range Biosciences has just announced the plan, which will see coffee and hemp tissue cultures sent to the ISS so that they can be cultivated and studied at various stages of gravity, reports Westword. The company has also partnered with tech startup Space Cells and the research institute BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder for the study.
In March 2020, Front Range will send the shipment of coffee and hemp through SpaceX CRS-20, a cargo flight destined for the space station. At that point, 48 plant cell cultures will reside for about a month in an incubator specially made for space as it is remotely monitored by BioServe from CU Boulder.
Once the samples return to the Earth, Front Range will then take a hard look at the DNA to see what changes—if any—they underwent during the various stages of microgravity and space radiation exposure.
While the idea of astronauts toking up in space and getting high sounds fun, keep in mind that hemp may be a variety of cannabis sativa but it is decidedly not the Cheech & Chong type. Instead, hemp is the plant that was recently made legal on the federal level but doesn’t contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC)—the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—to get you high.
Hemp has a stunning range of industrial applications spanning textiles to building materials, food, powering batteries, and even helping to restore the health of threatened bee populations. However, one of the most popular uses for the plant is its role in producing CBD oil, which is made from its flowers, buds, and seeds.
CBD oil is a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid found in cannabis plants. CBD has been shown to aid users in treating a range of problems including but not limited to anxiety, arthritis, chronic pain, depression, and other medical or health disorders, and has been used with increasingly frequency to relieve the pain associated with cancer and cancer treatment, as well as in the direct treatment of cancer itself.
In a statement, Front Range Biosciences CEO and co-founder 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.”
The study is also not entirely about the production of coffee and pot in outer space—indeed, Front Range envisions data from the study being used here on Earth, too. Just last year, the company joined forces with Frinj Coffee to produce coffee plants that can grow in the normally inhospitable climate of Central Southern California. Coffee is typically grown in equatorial or subtropical regions in Central and South America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia.
And researchers believe that this latest study could open a path to growing coffee and industrial hemp in a number of new venues by identifying new varieties and chemical expressions of the plants.
BioServe chief scientist Louis Stodieck said:
“We envision this to be the first of many experiments together.
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. This is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”