A methodology for growing three-dimensional plant tissue models in a hydrodynamic focusing bioreactor (HFB) has been developed. The methodology is expected to be widely applicable, both on Earth and in outer space, as a means of growing plant cells and aggregates thereof under controlled conditions for diverse purposes, including research on effects of gravitation and other environmental factors upon plant growth and utilization of plant tissue cultures to produce drugs in quantities greater and at costs lower than those of conventional methodologies

The HFB was described in “Hydrofocusing Bioreactor for Three-Dimensional Cell Culture” (MSC-22358), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 27, No. 3 (March 2003), page 66. To recapitulate: The HFB offers a unique hydrofocusing capability that enables the creation of a low-shear liquid culture environment simultaneously with the “herding” of suspended cells and tissue assemblies and removal of unwanted air bubbles. The HFB includes a rotating cell-culture vessel with a centrally located sampling port and an internal rotating viscous spinner attached to a rotating base. The vessel and viscous spinner can be made to rotate at the same speed and direction or different speeds and directions to tailor the flow field and the associated hydrodynamic forces in the vessel in order to obtain low-shear suspension of cells and control of the locations of cells and air bubbles.

For research and pharmaceutical-production applications, the HFB offers two major benefits: low shear stress, which promotes the assembly of cells into tissuelike three-dimensional constructs; and randomization of gravitational vectors relative to cells, which affects production of medicinal compounds. Presumably, apposition of plant cells in the absence of shear forces promotes cell-cell contacts, cell aggregation, and cell differentiation. Only gentle mixing is necessary for distributing nutrients and oxygen.

It has been postulated that inasmuch as cells in the simulated microgravitation of an HFB do not need to maintain the same surface forces as in normal Earth gravitation, they can divert more energy sources to growth and differentiation and, perhaps, to biosynthesis of greater quantities of desired medicinal compounds. Because one can adjust the HFB to vary effective gravitation, one can also test the effects of intermediate levels of gravitation on biosynthesis of various products.

The potential utility of this methodology for producing drugs was demonstrated in experiments in which sandal-wood and Madagascar periwinkle cells were grown in an HFB. The conditions in the HFB were chosen to induce the cells to form into aggregate cultures that produced anti-cancer indole alkaloids in amounts greater than do comparable numbers of cells of the same species cultured according to previously known methodologies. The observations made in these experiments were interpreted as suggesting that the aggregation of the cells might be responsible for the enhancement of production of alkaloids.

This work was done by Steve R. Gonda of Johnson Space Center and Jagan V. Valluri of Marshall University.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Dr. Jagan V. Valluri Marshall University 6242 Highland Dr. Huntington, WV 25705 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to MSC-24199-1, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

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This article first appeared in the April, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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