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We need to science the sh*t out of this: Synthetic Biology in Space

By Steven Burgess
How often is the lead character in a film a Botanist? Or more to the point, how often would that be a good thing?! Confounding expectations, Ridley Scott’s new film ‘The Martian’, stars Matt Damon, and is a combination of explosions, space and science that has my fellow colleagues in Plant Sciences geeking out.

Based on the debut novel of self-confessed super nerd Andy Weir, the story recounts the tribulations of astronaut (and did I mention Botanist?) Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars and has to survive long enough for a recovery mission. In honour of the film release we will be exploring the unknown, with a series of pieces investigating the role of synbio in space.

Things kick off tomorrow (Thursday October 22nd) as we host a live chat with Dr. Fuzhong Zhang and members of his group at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Zhang has extensive experience in the synbio with expertise in the design of systems for optimizing metabolic flux, and was recently awarded a prestigious Early Career Faculty Award from NASA to investigate the production of lightweight materials using cyanobacteria.

Dr. Fuzhong Zhang
Dr. Fuzhong Zhang

The idea is based on the concept of in situ resource utilization (ISRU) which requires the efficient recycling of available materials – something that will be essential for long duration space flight. We thought it would be a good idea to find out more about Dr. Zhang’s plans and how his group hope to realise this ambitious aim.

So if you are interested in finding out more about how synbio can help us explore the stars, join us tomorrow at 10 am (CST) via google hangout (click for the link). The chat will be hosted on PloS video channel and will start off with me quizzing the Zhang group about their research – however we actively encourage listeners to ask questions (which for the shy can also be sent to me prior to the talk).

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