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Influence of Microgravity on the Production of Aspergillus Secondary Metabolites (IMPAS) - a Novel Drug Discovery Approach with Potential Benefits to Astronauts' Health (NNX15AB49G)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Cellular and molecular biology
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Aspergillus nidulans Species: Fungus

The stressful environment of space causes changes to all forms of life, from bacteria and fungi, to animals and people. The Influence of Microgravity on the Production of Aspergillus Secondary metabolites (IMPAS) – a novel drug discovery approach with potential benefits to astronauts’ health (Micro-10) investigation studies how the stress of microgravity triggers changes in growth, gene expression, physical responses, and metabolism of a fungus called Aspergillus nidulans (A. nidulans), an important biomedical research species.

The overarching objective of the IMPAS flight experiment is to test if microgravity allows silent fungal metabolite pathways to become activated. Microgravity might generate a unique stress not achievable with ground-based cell culture studies. The research team studies the effects of microgravity on the production of fungal metabolites, and tests the hypothesis that spaceflight alters fungal gene expression, protein production, and overall physiological responses. The IMPAS project seeks to answer the follow hypothetical question: Since Aspergillus nidulans exhibited production of antibiotics on Earth, do these fungal cells yield useful biotherapeutic secondary metabolites when grown in stressed microgravity conditions? Metabolomic characterization of both flight and ground control specimens will answer this question, which may lead to the discovery of potentially useful biotherapeutic compounds.

The broad, long-term goal of this project is to study the changes encountered in various aspects of fungal “omics” under microgravity, as well as the production of fungal secondary metabolites. Natural products discovered from traditional discovery programs, such as lovastatin (a polyketide by Aspergillus terreus) and penicillin (a nonribosomally synthesized peptide by Penicillium chrysogenum), have demonstrated that filamentous fungi are a rich source of chemotherapeutic agents against a variety of diseases. Genome sequencing of various natural product-producing organisms have shown that, even in well-characterized organisms like A. nidulans and A. terreus, the biosynthesis pathways of the vast majority of natural products are still unknown, largely because they are silent until specific conditions trigger their expression. Research has shown that in filamentous fungi secondary metabolite production is highly sensitive to growth conditions. In addition, the IMPAS team has shown that many secondary metabolism pathways are triggered specifically in harsh or stressful conditions.

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Guo, C. J., Sun, W. W., Bruno, K. S., Oakley, B. R., Keller, N. P., & Wang, C. (2015). Spatial regulation of a common precursor from two distinct genes generates metabolite diversity. Chemical science, 6(10), 5913–5921. doi:10.1039/c5sc01058f. [DOI]

Wang, Clay C., Romsdahl, J, (2019 April). Recent advances in the genome mining of Aspergillus secondary metabolites (covering 2012–2018). Med. Chem. Commun., 2019,10, 840-866. [DOI]

Data Information
Data Availability
Archive is complete. No data sets are available for this experiment. Please Contact LSDA if you know of available data for this investigation.

Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
SpaceX_8 04/08/2016 05/11/2016 33 days

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Ames Research Center (ARC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Ames Research Center LSDA Level 3
Project Manager: Helen Stewart
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2014 Space Biology NNH14Z