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Codename Red: Space Research ID’s Cholesterol-cutting Bacterium

The Red bacteria are grown in Belgium at SCK•CEN research centre (MELiSSA’s partner) in bioreactors. Credit: ESA

A cholesterol-diminishing bacterium has been identified thanks to space research.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been looking into self-contained eco systems, ways to recycle mission waste into oxygen, water, and food.

Under the ESA-led Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELiSSA) project, a bacterium was tested, codenamed “Red” for safety at the Dutch TNO research institute.

Bacteria are promising ingredients for space food. They grow exponentially and can provide many nutrients in an astronaut’s diet on a long mission to the Moon or Mars, according to a newly issued ESA statement.

The bacterium has proven its worth as a major part of the MELiSSA loop for organic waste and water recycling. However, Red will not be used by MELiSSA as a cooking ingredient for astronauts because an alga was found to be more suitable for the job.

Taking on “bad” cholesterol

The codenamed Red bacterium was shown to be safe and nutritious but also has been shown to cut levels of LDL cholesterol – that’s the “bad” cholesterol your physician keeps talking about.

With ESA’s support, spin-off company EzCOL BV was set up by IPStar BV — MELiSSA’s technology transfer partner — to continue research and market the cholesterol-diminishing bacterium.

Early word is that there is a scaling up of production, coupled with doing more tests. The product is considered more effective at lower concentrations than existing cholesterol drugs.

On the world stage, high levels of cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of heart disease and stroke and 39% of the world’s population is subject to raised levels according to the World Health Organization.

Therefore, finding more ways to keep cholesterol in check has understandable benefits. And in this case, research into food that astronauts could grow themselves on long space treks could well have implications for lowering cholesterol levels in those of us that are Earth-bound.

By Leonard David

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