A recent News Report from the American Chemical Society released information on 'space lettuce' -- lettuce that produces a bone stimulating hormone.
While living in space, people loose 1% or more of their bone mass every month. This is because in a zero-gravity environment there is a lack of weight or stress on bones. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, dancing, climbing stairs or gardening all put stress on your bones and help build bone density on Earth. Astronauts normally follow a certain exercise regimen to prevent this excessive bone loss.
Yet, over a long period of time without gravity, bone loss still adds up. Since NASA is planning on sending astronauts for a 3 year mission to Mars, they needed to develop a way for astronauts to maintain bone density while in space.
Space lettuce will help with that. This modified lettuce contains part of a hormone called human parathyroid hormone (PTH) that helps to stimulate bone formation. While scientists have been able to grow the lettuce and test its PTH content, there is still a lot to be done, including trials on safety and effectiveness.
Space lettuce is promising both for astronauts and for the general public. As one of the researchers, Kevin Yates, predicts, “I would be very surprised that if, by the time we send astronauts to Mars, plants aren’t being used to produce pharmaceuticals and other beneficial compounds.”