As per this link, the International Space Station (ISS) continues to provide research in such fields as biology. What kind of biological research is being done on the ISS, considering there is no life in hard vacuum and microgravity of outer space to study? Is it just the research on effects of microgravity on human body, or also biological specimen being brought to the station to conduct laboratory environment experiments on?


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All kinds of research really, but let's start by quoting NASA's own page on Space Station Boosting Biological Research in Orbit:

Studying the science of biology in microgravity opens a world of possibilities! Research ranges from plant growth to cell growth and from bacterial virulence to strength in human bones. The scope of biology research provides scientists from many disciplines with opportunities to express and explore their area of interest, translating findings into treatments and applications for use on Earth and in space exploration.

And as one actual example mentioned on the same page:

           enter image description here

               The study of Arabidopsis thaliana, pictured here, will be a continuation of previous research to understand how
               the effects of hypobaric environments on the International Space Station determine plant growth in microgravity
               for long-duration space missions. (Image credit: NASA)

One thing to remember though is that NASA isn't the only space agency that has astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS), the station has scientific laboratories of many nations, and each may run their own or joint experiments through various scientific research institutions. In US alone, NASA quotes involvement from 21 institutions in 13 states. But to name a few examples, off the top of my head, some such biological research includes:

  • Virus and protein crystal (macromolecular crystallization) growth that has big potential and e.g. they have managed to grow extremely potent insulin crystals a lot larger than what's possible in gravity, a research that might in time help millions of people that suffer from diabetes.
  • Medical research in effects of prolonged stay in microgravity on human health (bone structure, ocular health, body mass loss, cardiovascular health and so on due to e.g. loss of intracranial pressure gradient).
  • Plant and cell growth in microgravity, resistance of microbiological specimens to increased radiation environment, studying cell mitosis, capillary action and metabolism processes, formation of cell structures (like roots, stems, etc.).

And many others, and the list would be too long to include here. But to somewhat shorten this by giving you a better overview, here's an excerpt from SpaceRef article following a press release on NASA Spaceflight Research Opportunities in Space Biology that is fairly recent:

This NASA Research Announcement (NRA) solicits hypothesis-driven space-flight research in Space Biology (SB) to be conducted on ISS. NASA SB experiments have one or more of the following primary goals:

  • to effectively use microgravity and the other characteristics of the space environment to enhance our understanding of basic biological processes;
  • to develop the scientific and technological foundations for a safe, productive human presence in space for extended periods and in preparation for exploration; and
  • to apply this knowledge and technology to improve our nation's competitiveness, education, and the quality of life on Earth.

So, as you can see, this would cover a pretty wide range of scientific research in space biology. If it interests you, we also have many related questions on our site with interesting answers, for example:

And some suggested tags to help you search our site are:

And many such projects on the ISS are now run via the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) that in July 2011 NASA chose to be the sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, which would be a good place to find more information on current biological research on the ISS. A lot of human cardiovascular health research is also done, for example, by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) via their BP Reg, VASCULAR and CCISS projects.

You may also find this recent Forbes article interesting: The Space Station Is The Final Frontier Of Bio Research (includes a video ;)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One of the best answers ever!! Thank you so much!!! $\endgroup$
    – Victor
    Dec 8, 2013 at 2:42

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