Growing Genetically Modified Organisms In Space

There remains much controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  From genetically modified food to plants that produce non-food to bacteria that produce specific molecules.  One of the larger concerns is what happens if a GMO gets loose in the wild.  The results could be a new invasive species to a detrimental affect on the food supply.  However, the chance a GMO gains freedom can be dramatically reduced if they are raised in a space station.

Why grow something in space?  A simple answer would be so we do not need to launch whatever we have grown into space.  That is costly.   Seeds and spores travel  much easier and with far less mass than whole foods.  And yet, I think we will grow food but more likely get GMOs to grow the building blocks for other purposes.  I’m specifically thinking of GMOs that would need little water, nutrient, or substrate to produce a product.    For example, growing the substrate a 3D fabricator can use to print parts.  A bacteria to produce a special fuel or fuel additive.  Maybe we use algae to produce oxygen as the product.  The applications are limited only by genetic modification.

Which gets us back to safety of GMOs and their containment.  Fundamental research for the GMO could take place on Earth but ship the prospective GMO to space to scale up to production.  This reduces large accidental releases at any rate.  The question then is it feasible for Earth based researchers to have a robotic lab in space?  Of course it is.  GMOs can be sent to space in an effectively switched off condition but then converted to the final active form once at the space station.  This would further reduce possible exposures.

Genetically modified organisms will be important to produce the building blocks of space colonization.  Reducing the risk of GMOs to fully enjoy their reward will be critical to their success and ours.

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