A Simple Pharmaceutical Protein Production & Purification System on Mars

"In order to truly explore space, astronauts will need the capability to produce needed medications during their mission" - Virginia Wotring (Adjunct Associate Professor, Center for Space Medicine and Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, Baylor College of Medicine).

The race to the Red Planet has started and colonization could be in the near future! To make the colonization of Mars possible the first people will, of course, need to be able to survive and be self-sustaining in a place far from Earth. Astronauts will need access to medicine, but bringing it from the Earth is unsustainable. With our project, we aim to make a Portable Protein Production and Purification System that will solve the astronauts need for pharmaceutical protein by letting them produce their own medicine on site - no need to depend on the supply from Earth!


How does our system work?

Our protein production system uses the bacterial injectisome (Type III Secretion System) as a molecular syringe. Some pathogenic bacteria use the injectisome to secrete toxic proteins into mammalian cells, an example of such a bacteria is the Salmonella bacteria. When the bacteria want to secrete a protein through the injectisome, only specifically tagged proteins carrying an injectisome secretion signal will be able to be secreted. This means that only proteins tagged with that signal are able to get secreted through the injectisome. We want to take advantage of that feature by making the bacteria produce useful proteins for us and inject it out through a biomimetic membrane into an isolated collection chamber. When the protein enters the isolated compartment it will theoretically be 100% pure and ready be collected and used for therapeutics. For a more detailed description of our protein production system, go here


How does our system differ from conventional protein production?

In conventional protein production the bacteria would produce the protein, but afterwards, we would need to go through a lot of steps in order to purify it. The process of purification takes time, lab equipment, chemicals, a lot of water and some of the protein goes to waste. However, the method allows for large-scale production.

Due to the purification process, conventional protein production requires well-equipped labs and are therefore not portable.


Why do we need a portable protein production system for long term space travel?

There are three very important problems with bringing medicine to space:

  1. Medicine expires after a while, so long-term space travel means that some of the medicine will expire during the exploration.
  2. The sheer amount of different medicine astronauts might need is vast which makes it difficult to predict what is needed to bring.
  3. The cost to keep transporting medicine to sustain a colony would be unsustainable and very high.

This all makes producing the medicine on-site the far the most attractive solution.



Gold Medal from iGEM Competition 2018

Nomination for Best Poster from iGEM Competition 2018

Judges Award from Nordic iGEM Conference 2018

iGEMers Choice Award from Nordic iGEM Conference 2018