The MELiSSA (Micro Ecological Life Support System Alternative) project aims to create a closed loop system, capable of providing all the necessary food, water and oxygen for astronauts on long Space missions. The MELiSSA loop is comprised of four compartments, with compartment IVA containing photoautotrophic bacteria, such as Arthrospira platensis, a good source of oxygen, edible biomass and micronutrients. One important example of the latter is cobalamin (B12) deficiency of which can lead to pernicious anaemia and neurological systems, and thus would be detrimental to astronauts on long Space missions. The molecule is not made by plants or fungi, so the ultimate source of B12 in the environment is prokaryotes, and its synthesis requires over 20 enzymatic reactions. Many eukaryotic algae also require cobalamin for growth, and some species have been shown to accumulate the vitamin when grown in coculture with cobalamin synthesising bacteria. The aim of this project is to extend existing knowledge of algal-bacterial mutualisms involving cobalamin. Eukaryotic species such as Haematococcus pluvialis and Chlorella vulgaris, both certified as safe for human consumption, along with A. platensis will be investigated with different bacterial partners to maximise cobalamin accumulation. Not only will this research help provide adequate nutrition on long Space missions, it will also support nutritional supply on Earth with the rise of veganism, as well as, aiding in understanding the dynamics of algal-bacterial mutualisms, which is of interest in terms of nutrient cycling in the environment.


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