Samples of kombucha are currently attached to the outside of the International Space Station, exposed to the harsh elements beyond our protective atmosphere. At face value, this may sound downright strange, yet The European Space Agency has its reasons for testing whether the yeast and bacteria in Kombucha can survive an unprotected journey through space.
“Expose” studies have been run on the ISS for years, in which different materials are quite literally “exposed” to the cosmic radiation, unaltered solar light, vacuum effects, and stark temperature changes that can only be found in space. Data have been compiled on how lichens and tardigrades – otherwise known as nature’s indestructible “water bears” – fare in space, but now it’s kombucha cultures’ turn.
Kombucha, for those outside hipster circles or not privy to ancient Chinese traditions, is a fermented drink that boasts some incredible health benefits. It is made using a SCOBY – “a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast” – which already looks like a gelatinous space blob, but is actually a cellulose membrane that forms over a batch of the stuff to protect the fermentation process underneath. This biofilm is what interests researchers. Its impressive applications have already been found on Earth, including anything from durable clothing to replacing wasteful plastic products.
Biofilms grown from kombucha cultures are already strong, yet become even more tough when mixed with simulated lunar dust. Researchers are fascinated by how this mixture, as well as how the cultures may harden and strengthen when exposed to radiation, could lead to innovations with textile technology for future space projects. Also, seeing as SCOBYs can be seen by the naked eye, while the microorganisms which create them cannot, researchers will know they have discovered life if they stumble upon biofilms such as these. Now, I think we can all drink to that. Cheers.
Images via the European Space Agency and Shutterstock