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How a Canadian scientist is using yeast to help protect future astronauts from cosmic radiation

Research into a simple ingredient used to make bread could help protect future astronauts from the effects of cosmic radiation.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia are studying the effects of near-zero gravity and cosmic rays on living organisms, namely baker's yeast.

Led by pharmaceutical sciences Prof. Corey Nislow, the team sent yeast, as well as algae, into space as part of the Artemis I lunar mission.

Its Orion spacecraft launched on Nov. 16, 2022, becoming the mission's first flight and the first capsule to visit the moon in 50 years.

The capsule, and the 6,000 yeast variants onboard, returned to Earth on Dec. 11.

As it turns out, yeast and humans have a lot in common from an evolutionary perspective, despite splitting from their common ancestor a billion years ago, Nislow told CTV's Your Morning on Monday.

"But despite that fact, half of the genes in you and I can function just fine when placed in a yeast cell," he said.

Having studied yeast for more than 30 years, including how its genes could become damaged and repaired, Nislow said all of that knowledge "will come into play when we leave lower Earth orbit, like we did on Artemis I, go to the moon and then go beyond."

Nislow said the aim is to understand which mutants thrived the best and which did not, and in turn learn which genes are most important for surviving cosmic radiation.

He previously told UBC in a write-up published in August 2022 that the preliminary data suggests yeast genes respond to cosmic radiation in a similar way to cells exposed to DNA-damaging cancer drugs.

He told CTV News earlier this month that he and his students will be working for years to decode what happened to the genomes of their yeast samples.

Not only will these studies help future crew members combat radiation while in space, they could help minimize the side effects of different chemotherapies, Nislow said.

"Like when you go to have radiation therapy, you have nutritional supplements, you are given additional drugs that can spare your normal cells, while allowing the radiation to kill your cancer cells. So we can do the same experiments in yeast, but we can do them in 90 minutes. That's a full generation time in yeast," Nislow said.

Watch the full interview with Corey Nislow at the top of the article. With files from CTV News Vancouver Multi-skilled Journalist Isabella Zavarise, Reporter Ian Holliday and The Associated Press. Top Stories

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