Survival potential of microalgae for long-term space missions

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Research (awarded by UHI)


If we are planning for long-term space missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, it will not be possible to get regular food and essential supplies from Earth, we will have to grow a lot of our own food and recycle the waste.
Microalgae have been identified as potentially useful to provide essential life support functions on short and long terms missions for various applications such as for food production, soil amendment and wastewater treatment for space missions.
Algal species such as Haematococcus pluvialis which can undergo the state of encystment and extremophilic algal species such as Dunaliella salina and cryophilic snow algae may be suitable species for long-term missions as they can produce high concentrations of antioxidants such as the red astaxanthin (keto-carotenoid) or the orange β-carotene pigments which can be utilised for human consumption. Another advantage of the physiology of these cells is that they may be more resistant to doses of radiation in space (due to the high antioxidant properties of the pigments).
These algal species may also be more tolerant of the effects of desiccation (as experienced in their dormant phase), and this would be a more efficient way of storing such algae for space missions as it reduces the cost of launching and carrying algae in their liquid cultures to space.
My experiments focused on which species can tolerate desiccation and whether this is correlated to their life cycle stage and pigment concentration. I also exposed the algal cells to radiation doses at SCK CEN Belgium similar to those reported on the International Space Station (ISS). Growth curves, microscopic images, pigment and metabolomic analysis were carried out on both radiated and control algal cultures to observe the effects of space radiation and desiccation on the algal cells in their different life stages.
Date of Award13 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorMatt Davey (Supervisor) & David Green (Supervisor)

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