11 July 2024

A group of engineering students from Thailand’s   has won an international award in Japan for their space technology project, which aims to develop a special drug to protect human DNA from cosmic rays.

Their space project was called “MINERVA CubeSat for demonstrating DNA damage mitigation against space radiation in C. elegans by using genetic modification”.

Their objective was to put small living animals in the MINERVA CubeSat, travelling to low earth orbit, and to observe how C. elegans (Caenorhabditis elegans) with Dsup Protein (Damage Suppressor Protein) can stand against space radiation.

Sumeth Klomchitcharoen, a doctorate student in Biomedical Engineering explains that CubeSat is suitable to release them in low earth orbit. While living roundworms like C. elegans are very small and 83% of their chromosomes are similar to humans, they could easily add Dsup Protein through genetic modification.

Pisitchai Tachavises, a bachelor degree student in Biomedical Engineering, further explained that “MINERVA” consists of six aluminium cubes, 30cm in height, 20cm in length and 10-12kg in weight. C. elegans are about 1mm long. Their method was to add Dsup to them through genetic modification. The special protein Dsup is from “Water Bears” or Tardigrade, which scientists found are the world’s strongest and most durable animal in any temperature or radiation environment.

If the trial with C. elegans is successful, the next test will be in humans.

The project won the award at the 7th Mission Idea Contest, in Tokyo, Japan, which was held by UNISEC-Global, an international non-profit body for space science and innovation for peace.