NSRRC to send virus-like particles into space from Japan

11/18/2021 10:28 PM
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Image taken from the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) website
Image taken from the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) website

Taipei, Nov. 18 (CNA) The National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) announced Thursday that it will send virus-like particles into space by the end of the year from Japan in an effort to gain a better understanding of the various properties of viruses, which could lead to the development of enhanced pandemic-prevention technology.

In the NSRRC press release Thursday, the center explained that the particles, developed by the center, will be transported to the international space station as part of a crystallization experiment.

The experiment will be conducted on the station. After being crystallized, the particles will be sent back to Taiwan.

The NSRRC said the entire process means that the particles will technically spend almost a month in space, during which time they will be transformed into virus-like particle crystals.

After the crystals are returned to Earth they will be rapidly frozen to -196 degrees Celsius before being transported back to Taiwan.

The NSRRC's high-intensity X-ray and protein crystallography technology will enable the institution to examine the effects of a gravity-free environment on crystal growth and the structure of viruses, far better than on Earth.

In the wake of the more than 5 million deaths so far attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to better understand the properties of viruses could enable mankind to develop enhanced pandemic-prevention technology that could reduce the impact of any future virus, the NSRRC said.

The particles to be sent into space were produced by an NSRRC research team lead by the center's deputy director Chen Chun-jung (陳俊榮).

In order to engineer the space-bound particles, Chen's team utilized molecular biology technology to mass produce high purity capsid protein, which was then made into non-infectious virus-like particles to guarantee the safety of the experiment.

"We expect the quality of the crystal to elevate significantly under a gravity-free environment in comparison to that of general laboratories on Earth," Chen said. "High-resolution structural information of the virus allows us to probe into the assembly and structure of viruses, as well as the key mechanism in invading the main cells of the hosts."

The NSRRC went on to add that the mission will be conducted with the partnership and support of Japan-based company Space BD, which will escort the virus-like particles to Japan before lifting off to the international space station.

(By Su Ssu-yun and James Lo)

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