CHE Professor Karen McDonald a NASA Space Technology Research Institute Grant Recipient


CHE Professor Karen McDonald and colleagues from UC Berkeley, Utah State, Stanford, Autodesk and Physical Sciences, Inc., were awarded up to $15 million over five years for their Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES).

The Center, led by UC Berkeley, is one of NASA’s first-ever Space Technology Research Institutes. As NASA shifts its focus from low-Earth orbit to deep space missions, the agency is investing in the development of technologies that will allow long-duration mission crews to manufacture the products they need, rather than relying on the current practice of resupply missions from Earth. The CUBES institute will advance research into an integrated, multi-function, multi-organism bio-manufacturing system to produce fuel, materials, pharmaceuticals and food. 

While the research goals of the CUBES Institute are to benefit deep-space planetary exploration, these goals also lend themselves to practical Earth-based applications. For example, the emphasis on using carbon dioxide as the base component for materials manufacturing has relevance to carbon dioxide management on Earth.

CUBES research includes:

  • Engineered microbes to convert limited or marginally accessible Martian feedstocks, such as atmospheric gases at low partial pressure and nutrients from contaminated/toxic land, into valuable commodities
  • Novel biologically-coupled nanotechnologies to fix available carbon and nitrogen and to transfer energy into biosynthetic processes
  • Refined plants and plant microbiomes that grow in restricted space, light, water, and nutrients, and that can still provide substantial yields of nutritive foods
  • Biologically-produced pharmaceuticals, cell-based treatments/therapeutics, and materials for on-demand diverse additive manufacturing applications, and
  • Optimized, integrated operation of the above processes.

CUBES’ individual approaches to media production, mission product manufacture, and food and pharmaceutical synthesis, amplified by a focus on integration and optimization, will lead to a strong data-driven, technologically-backed platform for space biomanufacturing.

Congratulations to the CUBES team.