Soy in space: Projects mixed real heroes, agricultural history
JASPER, Minn. -- In a galaxy that seems far, far away, Ron Sievert was part of a Soybeans in Space research project.The project took place on a space shuttle with astronaut icon and former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio. The goal was to insert human DNA...
JASPER, Minn. - In a galaxy that seems far, far away, Ron Sievert was part of a Soybeans in Space research project.
The project took place on a space shuttle with astronaut icon and former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio. The goal was to insert human DNA into a soybean and grow it in a field, then remove the DNA and test it for curing potential in diseases and viruses, such as AIDS.
In the 1990s, Sievert, the founder of what is now Jasper Soy Processors, helped lead a group of industry counterparts to develop a research company in Lafayette, Ind., called Producers Natural Processing LLC. Five of those companies funded some research and paid Purdue University researchers in shares of stock.
Richard Verling, a Purdue professor who was involved with the project, made contact with NASA and arranged to conduct studies of genetic transfers in soybeans in space. The group invested $10,000 into the project for research and Glenn performed the lab work on the space shuttle in 1998.
During the study, the team removed DNA from a jellyfish and put it into the soybean as a tracer for the gene transfer when the mating took place. “The soybean changed colors, indicating the genetic material had transferred,” he says.
Genetic manipulation was improved by the weightlessness of space.
The fledgling company sent up 1,000 seeds grown in Edgerton, Minn., to do the genetic work, and 1,000 seeds turned out to be successful genetic transfers, Sievert recalls.
The company successfully applied for a $250,000 grant, but the grant funding failed after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The research company dissolved within a year, though some of the company’s techniques have been used in other applications.
That was Glenn’s last space flight, Sievert says. “He made history and we made history at the same time,” he says.