Team:UNIK Copenhagen/Description

Moss… in space!

SpaceMoss is an interdisciplinary project that combines two fields of science leading the way into the future: Space Physics and Synthetic Biology. Space Physics and human curiosity are propelling martian colonisation. However, technologies to make astronauts self-sufficient on Mars, so we can live there for a long time, is still an unsolved problem. This is where Synthetic Biology could provide a solution by creating genetically modified organisms that can produce needed components for astronaut survival.

The focus areas of our project are displayed in our Vision chart below. Click on one of our visions to read more about it.


Proof of Concept: Moss can be Designed for Space Exploration

The idea is to introduce genes into the moss that will allow the moss to express key components for long duration missions to Mars. Our mission is to show that: "moss can be designed to better sustain harsh conditions on Mars AND produce compounds usefull for astronauts on long duration missions". We have chosen - as a proof of concept - to focus on 1) expression of an antifreeze protein and 2) the biosynthesis of Resveratrol. We have inserted an 'anti-freeze' gene from a spruce budworm into moss cells which will hopefully help moss to survive the low temperatures found on Mars. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that would be useful as a medical supplement to astronauts demonstrating the potential of using Synthetic Biology to produce compounds, which are useful to astronauts. This lab work is called Green Lab. Click here to read more about Green Lab.


Research on Moss in Mars Conditions

In the beginning of our project we gained access to the Mars Environmental Chamber at the Niels Bohr Institute. By simulating martian living conditions, such as low pressure, intense radiation and high carbon dioxide atmosphere can examine moss’s ability to survive on Mars. However, our main interest was to complement the experiments done in Green Lab. As these were focused on making the moss more resistant to cold (and this is not a variable we can change in the Mars Chamber) we needed to build our own experient. We build a prototype that enables us to measure the effect of different temperatures on plant material. We call the collected research and work done on the Moss outside the wet-lab for Red Lab. Click here to read more.

The Mars Environmental Chamber at the Niels Bohr Institute

Looking into the Mars Chamber


Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Cooperation

Traditionally, many iGEM teams have been composed of a large majority of people with a biological background. However, SpaceMoss is an interdisciplinary team, with members from a wide range of different academic disciplines like Astrophysics, Molecular Biology, Social Sciences and Business. We want to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, as it can open up to cool projects that might not otherwise be feasible. In our project, Biology and Astrophysics are closely intertwined, and as such both disciplines are needed to successfully apply Synthetic Biology to a Mars expedition. We feel that different backgrounds all bring something of value to the table, which is greater than the sum of its parts. Collaboration with other iGEM teams, universities and media has also been one of our focus points. Collaboration with other iGEM helps us make team SpaceMoss better, due to feedback, workshops and interesting discussions, and for that we want to thank all our collaborators. We have actively been in touch with media, in order to spread the idea of Synthetic Biology to the general public, which is a large part of what makes this competition important. Lastly, we also do collaborations because it is fun! The days of lonely scientists tinkering away in the lab during the wee hours of night are long gone. Collaborations is not only necessary to produce a sound and interesting project, but it is also an essential way to tie all our visions together through outreach and lab work. Without collaborations, there simply would be no iGEM or SpaceMoss!

Team members Victoria and Jonathan in the lab

Group photo from DTU Biobrick Workshop


Inspiring the Public

The project is keenly focused on raising awareness about the following issues: Ethics regarding the colonization of Mars and genetics, the benefits of interdisciplinary research and international collaboration and inspiring young people to participate in scientific research. This has been done through:presentations in both Denmark and Sweden and for different academic levels. To better communicate to the general public we had our project description turned into a, comic strips and made several short films. Lastly we were very succesfull in our media effort and experienced an enourmous exposure in danish media. Below is a picture from one of our presentations held in Uppsala, Sweden at the Nordic iGEM conference.

Team presenting at the Nordic iGEM meet-up in Uppsala