What started as a food that astronauts could grow themselves is showing potential for lowering cholesterol levels around the world: space research has found a bacterium that can reduce cholesterol levels by half. The origin of this discovery is ESA’s research into self-contained eco systems recycling mission waste into oxygen, food and water. Why take bulky supplies into space when you can engineer your own using the right mix of plants and microorganisms?
While they might not sound appetising, bacteria are promising ingredients for space food. They grow exponentially and can provide many nutrients in an astronaut’s diet on a long mission to the Moon or Mars. As part of its search for the perfect mix of ingredients, the MELiSSA project tested a bacterium, codenamed Red, for safety at the Dutch TNO research institute. The bacterium was shown to be safe and nutritious but also, remarkably, to cut levels of LDL cholesterol – the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of heart disease and stroke and 39% of the world’s population have raised levels according to the World Health Organisation. Finding more ways to keep cholesterol in check has obvious benefits. With ESA’s support, spin-off company EzCOL BV was set up by IPStar BV, MELiSSA’s technology transfer partner, to continue research and market the cholesterol-diminishing bacterium. Based in the Netherlands, ezCOL has taken over the development under ESA’s Business Incubation Centre in Noordwijk, where they were supported to start their business.
The technology could be marketed as a medicine or potentially as a food supplement to existing products. An extensive research program was succesfully completed in Q4 2015 and talks are initiated with major food producers and pharmaceutical companies.