Algae Grown in DMACC Biotechnology Lab Headed to Space

Posted 4/25/2019

DMACC Biology Professor Julie González Delivered Algae for May 4 Launch
UPDATE (5-3-19): Per NASA, the April 30 launch has been rescheduled for 1:48 a.m. CT on Saturday, May 4th. The following has been updated to reflect this new date/time.​

DMACC, the largest undergraduate college in Iowa, is headed to space!

On May 4, NASA will send the next shipment of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station via the SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-17 rocket launch of a Cargo Dragon spacecraft, and an experiment utilizing algae grown in the DMACC Biotechnology Lab will be on board.

Julie González, DMACC Biology Professor and Biotechnology Program Chair, personally delivered the algae to NASA officials last weekend at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., site of the launch.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our DMACC Biotechnology Program students to experience one of the many exciting career avenues their degree could lead them to in the future,” González said. “We currently have a 100 percent placement rate for DMACC Biotechnology graduates, and we regularly hear from employers in the industry who want to hire our students.”

The upcoming launch will mark the 17th SpaceX mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, and inclusion of the experiment utilizing algae grown in the DMACC Biotechnology Lab was made possible by the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program (NCAS), an educational experience for community college students interested in exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

DMACC graduate Lyndsay Baker, who earned her Biotechnology AS degree from the College in May 2017 and is now employed with Kemin Industries in Des Moines, participated in the NCAS program during her time at DMACC. As an NCAS program alum, Baker was given the unique opportunity to submit a research proposal to NASA and was thrilled to later see it selected.

“I had a dream and found an opportunity,” Baker said. “And what a dream come true it has been! I’m so grateful for my time at DMACC because it was a safe place for me to explore my interests and ask questions. I’m also very grateful for my experience with the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. It opened so many doors for me, and I would strongly encourage any interested student to get involved in the program.”

Upon NASA’s selection of her proposal, Baker invited González to join the project team as a safety engineer, giving current DMACC students a chance to participate in the project as well.

The project involves haematococcus pluvialis – a common algae found in puddles – that has the ability to produce an antioxidant carotenoid called astaxanthin to protect itself when under stress. The experimental hypothesis is that the effects of microgravity in space may be enough stress the algae, therefore producing the antioxidant astaxanthin. A positive result would be significant for future research as existing studies have shown that astaxanthin protects against radiation, which astronauts are exposed to at higher levels in space.

After delivering the algae, González returned to the DMACC Ankeny campus and will collaborate on the experiment with NASA astronaut Nick Hague during the mission via a NASA-secure comms station located in the DMACC Biotechnology Lab.

Additional next steps include launching a website to share mission outcomes and engage K-12 students.

“We plan to incorporate an educational partnership with high schools into future research steps, depending on the initial experiment’s outcome,” González said. “It would be exciting, for example, to see high schools have the ability to grow and conduct experiments on space-flown algae in their classes.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-17 rocket launch of the Cargo Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for 1:48 a.m. CT on Saturday, May 4​. For more information about the mission, visit the NASA website here.

Return to News