Biosensors using brewer's yeast modified with jellyfish genes could find use on space flights.

Biosensors using brewer’s yeast modified with jellyfish genes could find use on space flights, warning astronauts of dangerous levels of cosmic radiation. The modification means that every time the yeast repairs its genetic code, green fluorescent protein (GFP) is released and detected as a flash of light. If the yeast encounters genotoxic chemicals or radiation it emits characteristic luminescence.

Biosensors like these have already found use in fields such as environmental monitoring, and even chemical weapons detection. But now they are set to go where no yeast has gone before: in the early hours of 19 April, a Soyuz rocket left the Russian Space Agency’s launch site, in Kazakhstan, heading for the International Space Station. On board was an experiment by British scientist Andrew Knight, of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, codenamed FORRAY (Fluorescence Orbital Radiation Risk Assessment using Yeast). The idea is that the yeast becomes increasingly fluorescent as it repairs damage caused to its genetic code by cosmic radiation, giving astronauts an indication of their degree of exposure.

’The FORRAY experiment came back to Earth at the end of April’, Knight explained, ’the team are currently measuring cellular fluorescence with the aim of linking radiation levels to DNA damage’.

Ian Farrell