A batch of virus-like particles cultivated by the National Synchrontron Radiation Research Center is to be sent to the International Space Station for crystallization experiments next month, in collaboration with Japanese company Space BD, the center announced yesterday.
Space BD in May said that it had been appointed as the sole private partner by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for its high-quality protein crystal growth experiment service, HelioX Cosmos founder and CEO Bill Chang (張懷謙) said.
A parcel of the center’s particles has been sent to Japan for a US rocket launch scheduled next month, Chang said, adding that he could not reveal the precise time and rocket supplier for the mission.
Photo courtesy of the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center
The particles are to stay in the space station’s lab for nearly a month, he said.
The launch is primarily a supply mission for the space station, the center said.
The particles are expected to crystallize while in space, and would be kept at minus-196°C before being returned to Earth, it said.
After the particles return to the center, researchers plan to utilize high-intensity X-ray and protein crystallography technology at the Taiwan Photon Source to observe changes in the particles, it said.
The particles originated from viruses that can cause diseases in humans or animals, and have been reduced to being “virus-like” after removal of their pathogenic genes, said center deputy director Chen Chun-jung (陳俊榮), who leads a team on molecular biology research.
While conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Georgia from 1999 to 2000, Chen engaged in a similar project in which particles were sent to space through a NASA-supported project, he said.
“We expect the quality of the particles’ crystallization to elevate significantly in a gravity-free environment, in comparison with that in general laboratories on Earth,” Chen said.
With better crystallization, researchers can analyze the viruses’ atomic structures with better depth and improve understanding about their pathogenic mechanisms, he said.
Although Chen did not state which types of viruses are being sent to the space station, the center’s news release referred to viruses that cause COVID-19, swine fever, avian influenza, and sealife diseases as examples that can claim lives and cause economic damage.
Improving our understanding about the viruses would help the development of new treatments, the center said, hoping to make breakthroughs in precision medicine and pandemic-prevention technology.
The center, headquartered at the Hsinchu science park, is affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology. The project has been coordinated by HelioX Cosmos, a Taiwanese start-up that is the official representative for the Japanese company.
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