Contact: David Klaus

Jim Scott

Increased Production of Antibiotics in Space Reported By
University of Colorado Researchers

Several space shuttle experiments flown by the University of Colorado at Boulder-based BioServe Space
Technologies Center in October 1998 show promise for developing new biomedical products, according to recent
research results.

Aerospace engineering sciences Assistant Professor David Klaus said an antibiotic production experiment
involving microbes showed the production of the antibiotic actinomycin D was 75 percent higher in space than in
ground-control experiments. The tests, conducted in collaboration with Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical
Research Institute in Wallingford, Conn., took place during the flight of Discovery that returned astronaut John
Glenn to space.

Similar experiments flown by BioServe in the past and carried out in test tubes also showed increases in antibiotic
production, although relatively small quantities were produced, said Klaus, Bioserve’s associate director for
research and the mission manager for the flight.

Actinomycin D is an anti-cancer therapeutic, but its use is still largely experimental due to relatively high toxicity

The modification of the apparatus containing the antibiotic experiments for the flight appears to have made a
difference, said Klaus. “We added a new gas-exchange fermentation device, which appears to have stimulated the
antibiotic production by 20-fold over the test tube values.”

“This device was designed to provide more optimal growth conditions for microorganisms, and should help
researchers gain insight into the causes of increased antibiotic productivity,” he said. “This represents one more
incremental step in eventually being able to reproduce these beneficial responses on Earth.”

Headquartered in CU-Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, BioServe is a joint venture between
NASA, CU-Boulder and Kansas State University that undertakes a variety of industry-driven, life-science
experiments on shuttle flights and involves both students and faculty.

In a related experiment, samples of E. coli bacteria also grew better and more efficiently during the flight than the
samples in the ground-control experiment. “The bacteria essentially grew more and consumed less nutrients — in
this case glucose — indicating a higher metabolic efficiency in space,” Klaus said.

Another BioServe experiment, involving protein crystal growth in collaboration with BioSpace International of
College Park, Md., produced crystals roughly equal in size to those grown in the ground-control experiments. But
the space grown crystals — which have applications for new drug design — were primarily loose and free-floating,
compared to the Earthbound crystals, most of which adhered to walls and membranes and were difficult to

“More importantly, topographical analyses indicated that space-grown crystals were of higher perfection than the
ground crystals and had more uniform, sharper diffracted images,” he said.

Klaus was one of about a dozen researchers from around the nation that presented new findings from the 1998
Discovery mission at a symposium held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The symposium
was sponsored by NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

BioServe and its industry affiliates will carry out longer-duration experiments on the International Space Station
beginning in 2001, said Klaus. “BioServe’s primary objective is to support commercial researchers in exploring
mechanisms by which space flight can be used to create a ‘value-added’ benefit in a biotech application.”

The shuttle experiments took place inside the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, a suitcase-sized
device designed and built at CU-Boulder that has flown on 13 space shuttle missions, including two four-month
stints on Russia’s Mir Space Station. The CGBA contains hundreds of syringe-like devices for mixing fluids in
space, as well as other project-specific devices.