Ryerson students launch mushrooms into space

A group of university students are hoping to 'boldly grow' where no one has grown before. The students have sent mushroom spores into space, to see if they will grow onboard the International Space Station.

A test tube containing mushroom spores has been launched to the International Space Station

The experiment was designed by Preet Kahlon, Francis Buguis, Gemma Mancuso, and David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute high school students Modlin Orange and Kugenthini Tharmakulasekaram. (Aron Tsehaye/Ryerson University)

A group of Ryerson University students are hoping to 'boldly grow' where no one has grown before.  

The students have sent mushroom spores into space, to see if they will grow on-board the International Space Station.

Last year, Ryerson became the first Canadian university to participate in the Student Spaceflights Experiments Program (SSEP), a program that pairs Ryerson students with local high school students to design experiments that could be performed in outer space.

Preet Kahlon, a medical physics student at Ryerson, is one in a team of five students who designed the experiment.

"We decided oyster mushrooms because they are edible, they have a high source of fibre, a high source of protein, and low in fat...and because of the small growth period with oyster mushrooms, we're hoping one day possibly astronauts could grow it as a food source," she told CBC's Metro Morning on Thursday.

Ryerson Student Preet Kahlon holds a test tube containing mushroom spores, part of an experiment sent to the International Space Station. (Aron Tsehaye/Ryerson University)

The oyster mushroom experiment, inside a 10-inch silicone tube with three compartments, was recently shipped to Texas, put on a rocket, and launched to astronauts on-board the ISS. One of the compartments holds the spores, the second holds a food source of rice straw and water crystals, and a third compartment contains a fixative to preserve the results of the experiment.

"What they will do once they get it is they open the little latch in between them and then, shaking it, essentially offering the food for the spores," said Kahlon.

She says mushrooms can consume what's already available in space.

"The great thing about oyster mushrooms is the food source that it uses is so vast.  We can use anything from ground coffee beans, to honestly, used up cardboard, paper, and that's stuff that we would assume would be readily available to the astronauts, so if you could use that plus water to make food, that's awesome, right?"

Waiting for growth

The students have to wait for the test tube to return to earth so they can get their results.

"Fingers crossed, we get our experiment back around the end of August ... open it up ... using different types of dyes to separate the growth from the food and from the fixative as well."

What they'll be looking for is any evidence that the mushrooms could be a food source for space travellers.

"What we're hoping is essentially to get growth," she said. "That would be so great. We're basically saying hey you can grow your own food in orbit."