Scientists have created a salad that protects astronauts from losing bone mass

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In 2030, NASA plans to send a mission to Mars. During the three-year mission, the astronauts will spend extended periods of time on microgravity, which will lead to osteopenia, a loss of bone mass. Over time, it can develop into osteoporosis, which increases the risk of serious fractures, including those leading to death.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed a transgenic lettuce that can prevent bone loss. They spoke in more detail about their invention at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Previous observations by astronauts on long-haul spaceflight have shown that they lose, on average, more than 1% of their bone mass per month in space.

“Currently, astronauts on the ISS are performing some exercises to maintain bone mass,” says Kevin Yates, one of the authors of the project. “But they usually stay in the ISS for no more than 6 months.”

The flight to Mars will take about 10 months and the astronauts will stay there for about a year to study the planet before returning to Earth.

To prevent bone loss, astronauts can use a drug that contains a fragment of parathyroid hormone that can stimulate bone growth. However, in this case, daily injections would be needed and transporting such an amount of medicine and administering it during space flights is not practical.

“Astronauts can take transgenic seeds with them, they are very small – there can be many thousands of seeds in a thumb-sized test tube – and grow them like a normal lettuce,” said Somen Nandi, co-author of the study. . . “They could use these plants to synthesize PTH as needed and then eat them.”

Astronauts on the ISS have already shown that ordinary lettuce can be grown successfully there.

Scientists have begun to create a transgenic lettuce that expresses the PTH peptide in a form that could be taken orally rather than by injection.

To increase the stability and bioavailability of PTH, they attached a portion of another protein to it – a fragment of the crystallizable region (Fc) of a human antibody. Previous studies have shown that the Fc fragment increases the circulation time of the bound peptide in the blood, making it more efficient.

The researchers then inserted the gene that encodes the resulting construct into lettuce using the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The scientists examined transgenic plants and their offspring to produce PTH-Fc. Preliminary results showed that, on average, plants produce about 10-12 mg of the modified peptide hormone per kilogram of fresh lettuce.

According to Yates, this means that astronauts will have to eat about 380 grams of lettuce daily to get enough of the hormone, assuming 10% bioavailability.

“What we’re doing now is testing all of these lettuce transgenic lines to find the one with the highest PTH-Fc expression,” said study co-author Karen McDonald. “So far we have examined only a few of them and noticed that the average value is 10-12 mg / kg, but we believe that we can increase this percentage. “The higher we can raise the expression, the less lettuce will need to be consumed.”

The researchers did not dare to try transgenic lettuce – its safety has not yet been proven. However, in their opinion, lettuce will not be much different from ordinary lettuce, like most other transgenic plants compared to the “natural” ones. In the future, researchers plan to optimize PTH-Fc expression levels first and then test its safety and efficacy in animals and, if successful, in humans. In addition, it is important to know how well transgenic lettuce will grow in the ISS and provide the same amount of PTH-Fc as on Earth.

The researchers hope that the transgenic lettuce will be useful not only for astronauts, but also for people with osteopenia in areas where there is no access to regular medicine.

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