Researchers at the University of Florida in Homestead hope to accelerate the cultivation of the Jatropha plant to help in producing high quality oil that can be converted into an alternative energy fuel, or biofuel. With the experiment known as the National Lab Pathfinder-Cells 3, the scientists aim at learning if microgravity can help jatropha curcas plant cells grow faster to produce biofuel, or renewable fuel derived from biological matter.
Launched on space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-130 mission in February, jatropha cell cultures were sent to the space station in special flasks containing nutrients and vitamins. These cells will be exposed to microgravity and finally return back on space shuttle Discovery’s STS-131 mission targeted for April. This study will accelerate the cultivation of the plant for commercial use by improving characteristics such as cell structure, growth and development. This study is said to the first to assess the effects of microgravity on cells of a biofuel plant.