Team:Sao Carlos-Brazil/Description

Project Description


We introduce Astroshield! For our project, we have used synthetic biology techniques to implement the surface display technology on the fermenting yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae in order to make it resistant to UV radiation with the use of melanin! Our goal is to take a small step for science but a big leap for mankind, allowing future colonizers of Martian lands to produce ethanol and fermented foods such as bread on its surface!

The applications aren't limited to Mars! The modified yeast could also help to improve the efficiency of fermenting processes on Earth, diminishing chemical sterilization wastes and opening the path to a UV-based sterilization process on sugar-alcohol factories! We have worked with Zenith Aerospace (@zenith_eesc) group to test our implementations aboard stratospheric balloons (but not the GMOs themselves, please see our Safety Page to find out more about our biosafety considerations). Given that stratospheric radiation signatures are similar to readings recorded on Mars, data obtained from this platform will be particularly useful when the time comes to establish the first human colony on the Red Planet.


The first idea for our project came from the desire to make something that involved space and could potentially be used in the near future. Then, what is the best way to develop our project focused on the colonization of Mars?

Radiation, including ultraviolet (UV), is one of the obstacles to colonize other planets. Most of Earth's organisms can't tolerate high doses of UV for a long time. Could Synthetic Biology tools change this reality? We believe so!

The concept of using melanin as a protection source for our yeasts first came to light when partner astrobiologists conducted a stratospheric experiment composed of a co-culture of extremophile fungi and fermenting Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to understand whether the extremophile organism (which produces large amounts of melanin) would shield the fermenting one against stratospheric radiation. We figured applying Synthetic Biology to this approach might be a more practical way to protect our chassis against the harsh conditions found on Mars.

Purpose and Potential

We were inspired by space colonization, but we also wanted our project to be important on Earth, now! We have decided to explore the potential of making S. cerevisiae resistant to UV. Based on our idea, the modified strain could be used on a novel UV based approach on sugar-alcohol industries during the sterilization of the wort. Wort contamination can generate significant financial losses and a lot of waste since the production of ethanol must stop for the bioreactors to be cleaned properly. The cleaning procedure uses strong acid and can generate byproducts that have a negative environmental impact.

These problems could be potentially solved with a UV-based sterilization step, but first, we need a UV-resistant yeast!