A new study has shown that “space lettuce” can help astronauts maintain strong bone health during long journeys. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, saw the creation of an experimental lettuce variety that they say may help those who spend long periods in space maintain good bone health. Staying in space on long journeys is a tough job. Several issues related to physical and mental health need to be addressed before astronauts travel to space.
Astronauts undergo rigorous training to stay in shape throughout their mission. However, there are factors beyond their control that could affect their health. For example, long exposure to microgravity quickly weakens bones. Some studies say that astronauts could lose about 1 percent of the mass of some bones each month while in space. And after their return, recovery on Earth could take a while.
NASA’s famous twin study states that space travel could affect gene expression, which in turn could affect bone health. Astronauts do exercises to mitigate these effects.
But new research, presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week, says “space lettuce” produces a drug containing a fragment of the human parathyroid hormone (PTH) peptide that, among other things, helps stimulate bone growth .
Injecting astronauts with PTH to treat bone loss may not be an ideal long-term solution to extend their stay in space, especially to distant destinations like Mars. But you can easily grow this lettuce and eat it regularly to maintain bone health.
“Astronauts can carry transgenic seeds that are very small — you can have a few thousand seeds in a vial the size of your thumb — and grow them like regular lettuce,” said study author Somen Nandi, a chemical engineer, in a statement.
Astronauts have grown terrestrial lettuce on the International Space Station (ISS). While staying in space, they subsist on processed and packaged rations such as fruits, nuts, chocolate, shrimp cocktails, peanut butter, and chicken, etc. Growing lettuce has opened up opportunities for growing other vegetables.