Astronauts are always busy on the International Space Station (ISS), and this week is no exception. New experiments on the ISS will include the development of yogurt-like concoctions, tomatoes grown in space and microbes capable of consuming plastic.

The first of the new experiments on the ISS is in view Pseudomonas putidathe microorganism that feeds on plastic.

Organized by SeedLabs, in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Weill Cornell Medicine and Harvard Medical School, the upcoming experiments will test the capabilities of microbes in space, potentially offering important advances both for reducing pollution on Earth and uses for astronauts during future lunar and Martian exploration.

A new series of experiments on the ISS

As Fast Company explained, the microbe Pseudomonas putida is capable of not only breaking down PET, an extremely common plastic often used in bottling and packaging, but also converting its compounds into β-ketoadipic acid, “a nylon monomer that can be used in fabrics or manufacturing processes existing”.

The researchers hope that growing microbes in a high-UV, zero-gravity environment could harden the organisms, which would be an advantage both for future space missions and for humans’ attempts to control pollution on Earth, they write Popular Science.

“Studying how bacteria fare in space generally helps to glean more information about the biological makeup of microbes and whether they might be able to withstand changing environmental conditions on Earth,” adds Fast Company.

A study that could lead to a novel way to create medicines

Pseudomonas putida it’s not the only microscopic arrival aboard the ISS this week. As Tech Crunch notes, the astronauts are getting the extra microbes as part of “the second phase of an attempt to create a stable yogurt mix that, when hydrated, results in bacteria that naturally produce a target nutrient,” as would be glucose and other complex molecules for drugs.

Gaining a better understanding of how these processes develop in space could help future explorations achieve greater self-sufficiency in producing the necessary meals and medicines.

Tomatoes grown in microgravity

Speaking of meals: ISS residents have a batch of “space” tomatoes to enjoy. These miniature ‘Red Dwarf’ tomatoes, which can be seen in NASA imagesare part of ongoing experiments aimed at growing healthy food in microgravity and zero-gravity environments using only artificial lighting.

While recent work has focused on green leafy vegetables such as spinach, the Veg-05 project is concerned with larger crops such as tomatoes. After a 104-day growth period from seed to finished meal, astronauts will have a chance to taste them for themselves.

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