Intraterrestrial Fungus (STaARS-iFUNGUS ) - 08.23.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Intraterrestrial Fungus (STaARS-iFUNGUS) cultures a rare type of fungus in the microgravity environment of space in order to search for new antibiotics. The fungus, Penicillium chrysogenum, differs from other fungi because it comes from deep in the Earth’s subsurface and shows potential as a source for new antibacterial compounds. The STaARS-iFUNGUS experiment transports frozen samples of fungal spores to the International Space Station (ISS), grows the fungus in different nutrient mixtures over different intervals, refreezes the samples and then returns them to Earth, where scientists examine how they grew and what chemicals they produced.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Brandi Reese, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Intraterrestrial Fungus

Principal Investigator(s)
Brandi Reese, Ph.D., Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, TX, United States

Heath Mills, Ph.D., Space Technology and Advanced Research Systems, Inc., Houston, TX, United States

Space Technology and Advanced Research Systems, Inc., Houston, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2017 - September 2017; September 2017 - February 2018

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Intraterrestrial Fungus (STaARS-iFUNGUS) delivers a 73 million-year-old fungus that was isolated from an extreme depth beneath the sea floor to the ISS for growth in microgravity. This fungus provides a unique test organism for examining metabolic responses due to microgravity exposure.
  • Fungal spores are delivered to the ISS via a cryo delivery system to ensure growth only in space. This delivery system is critical for isolating the effects of microgravity to determine growth rate and metabolite production in this unique environment.
  • This Penicillium chrysogenum has been shown to possess a unique genome divergent from any other terrestrial populations, including the capacity to produce a genetically unique natural product with antimicrobial characteristics.
  • Previous studies have shown that microgravity effects the production of antibiotics. Based on the experimental design for this project, including the number of samples to be flown and the postflight analysis, effects on the production of this natural product as well as a detailed characterization of the stress induced by microgravity enable a more accurate and precise analysis and for less cost than previously possible.


Intraterrestrial Fungus (STaARS-iFUNGUS), identifies changes in a natural product following growth in microgravity compared to terrestrial controls. The investigation determines alterations in the transcriptome through the next generation sequencing of reversed transcribed messenger RNA (mRNA). STaARS-iFUNGUS characterizes the inflight produced metabolome through a combination of chemical analysis and functional determination of natural product efficacy.
For the investigation, STaARS-iFUNGUS, growth of a Penicillium chrysogenum is monitored in four different media types, over three different time periods. Fungal isolate growth trials are conducted in triplicate to provide statistically important data sets to test metabolic and molecular changes associated with microgravity. All media are prepared anaerobically to avoid the need for inflight aeration. Inoculated cultures are delivered to and from the ISS frozen to ensure growth only occurs in microgravity. Post flight analysis is conducted in Dr. Reese's laboratory at TAMU-Corpus Christi and assisted by Dr. Mills' biotechnology laboratory at STaARS.

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Space Applications
STaARS-iFUNGUS demonstrates how the microgravity environment of space can serve as a laboratory and production facility for new life science discoveries. Space offers a complementary environment for studying organisms discovered from extreme environments on Earth. Discoveries generated by this research can foster further research and production efforts that utilize low gravity conditions to create novel compounds or other products.

Earth Applications
This research uses the unique conditions of space to search for compounds that can prevent infections on Earth. Determining factors that enhance production of anti-microbial compounds can inform other efforts to identify new drugs. Studying extremophiles in space also expands fundamental understanding of how gravity influences biological processes.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

Fungal growth is conducted in thirty-six 5 mL cryotubes filled with four different media types representing varied concentrations of carbon sources. Each of the four media types are added to nine 5 mL cryotubes. A specific quantity of spores from a deep subsurface Penicillium chrysogenum are inoculated into each cryotube. The tubes are frozen. Cultures are transported to the ISS aboard any available vehicle. After arriving at the ISS, the cultures are thawed to ambient temperature for incubation. Triplicate sets of tubes filled with each of the four media types are cultivated anaerobically for 5, 10, and 20 days with the exact final time point subject to return vehicle operations. All samples return to Earth frozen. Samples remain frozen during vehicle recovery and shipment to the Principal Investigator. Based on this operational plan, the required crew time is very minimal.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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