Molecular pharming to support human life on the moon, mars, and beyond

Matthew J. McNulty, Yongao Xiong, Kevin Yates, Kalimuthu Karuppanan, Jacob M. Hilzinger, Aaron J. Berliner, Jesse Delzio, Adam P. Arkin, Nancy E. Lane, Somen Nandi, Karen A. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Space missions have always assumed that the risk of spacecraft malfunction far outweighs the risk of human system failure. This assumption breaks down for longer duration exploration missions and exposes vulnerabilities in space medical systems. Space agencies can no longer reduce the majority of the human health and performance risks through crew members selection process and emergency re-supply or evacuation. No mature medical solutions exist to address this risk. With recent advances in biotechnology, there is promise for lessening this risk by augmenting a space pharmacy with a biologically-based space foundry for the on-demand manufacturing of high-value medical products. Here we review the challenges and opportunities of molecular pharming, the production of pharmaceuticals in plants, as the basis of a space medical foundry to close the risk gap in current space medical systems. Plants have long been considered to be an important life support object in space and can now also be viewed as programmable factories in space. Advances in molecular pharming-based space foundries will have widespread applications in promoting simple and accessible pharmaceutical manufacturing on Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCritical Reviews in Biotechnology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • biomanufacturing
  • medical countermeasure
  • medical foundry
  • oxygenic photoautotroph
  • Plant molecular pharming
  • space exploration
  • space medicine
  • synthetic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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