NanoRacks-Slime Mold Organization (NanoRacks-Slime Mold) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone

Slime molds form when individual cells swarm together and self-assemble into a blob, essentially a giant single cell containing thousands of nuclei. These unusual cells, which have already been found on the International Space Station, respond to external forces and stimuli by moving and changing their shapes. NanoRacks-Slime Mold Organization (NanoRacks-Slime Mold)  treats slime molds with a series of stimuli while in microgravity, monitoring their responses and comparing them to slime molds on the ground.

Science Results for Everyone
Initiation of this investigation has been affected by the loss of the Orbital-3 launch vehicle and mission in October 2014.

The following content was provided by Greg Adragna, M.S., M.Ed., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-43

Principal Investigator(s)
Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston , Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Houston, TX, United States

Greg Adragna, M.S., M.Ed., Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Houston, TX, United States
Peter Rispin, B.A., Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Houston, TX, United States

NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Scientific Discovery, Earth Benefits, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The NanoRacks-Slime Mold Organization (NanoRacks-Slime Mold) growth chambers contain slime molds that are exposed to differing chemical and physical stimuli.
  • The NanoRacks-Slime Mold microcontroller system has been developed by Texas A&M University.
  • This experiment uses a standard 1.5 U (10 cm by 10 cm by 15 cm) NanoRacks Module consisting of a LEXAN™ArduLab covered in Aluminum tape (High Temperature 3M™ Aluminum Tape).


Slime molds have unique behavior.  At times they behave like isolated single-celled organisms, at other times they assemble into slug-like multi-cellular organisms, and when they are under duress they can form fruiting bodies and sporulate.  This behavior, in itself, is interesting but the behavior could be even more interesting when it occurs in microgravity.  NanoRacks-Slime Mold Organization (NanoRacks-Slime Mold) investigates several questions:  Will the single-celled organisms be able to self-assemble into the multi-celled organism in microgravity?  Upon induction of sporulation, will the fruiting body be able to develop without the spatial organizing principle of gravity? Studies on Physarum have even shown that they have ability to learn and predict periodic stimuli .Will this ability transfer into a microgravity environment? 
Professor John Tyler Bonner of Princeton University, has spent a lifetime studying slime molds.  In his book The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds he states that they are "no more than a bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviours that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia – that is, simple brains."  The simplest statement of the project is that NanoRacks-Slime Mold aims to investigate whether or not slime molds can learn to adapt to a completely new environment. 
In addition, there is some anecdotal evidence (gathered from a personal conversation with Dr. Don Pettit) that slime molds already exist on the ISS, having arrived there accidentally, but that they have not been studied.  It is possible that our research could be helpful in understanding how slime molds function on the ISS and, perhaps, be applied to eliminating them or reducing their negative effects.

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Space Applications
Slime molds and biofilms have been found on the ISS, and may grow differently in microgravity than they do on Earth. Better understanding of their behavior helps scientists develop countermeasures to dispose of them or control them.

Earth Applications
Improved understanding of slime mold behavior yields new methods for eliminating them or using them for human benefit on Earth. Slime molds self-replicate and self-organize, and their unique capabilities may lead to new biotechnology discoveries.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The experiment needs to be immediately destowed, allowed to attain thermal equilibrium (1 hour), plugged into the NanoRacks Platform, and powered-up for 30 days of operations (±4 days) before return. Data is retrieved from the SD-card upon return.
NanoRacks Module-43 is destowed immediately and allowed to attain thermal equilibrium (1 hour). It is plugged into the NanoRacks Platform and operates autonomously for a minimum of 30 days (±4 days). NanoRacks Module-43 returns in cold stowage.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
National Design Challenge - CASIS

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image Diagram of NanoRacks-Slime Mold Organization (NanoRacks-Slime Mold) growth chambers. Image courtesy of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston.
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