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Milan Bier is currently Professor of Engineering and Microbiology at the University of Arizona where he is director of the Biophysics Technology Laboratory. The purpose of this Laboratory is to provide a bridge between the Engineering and the Life Sciences communities. main research effort is in the area of separation sciences.
Dr. Bier was born in 1920 in Yugoslavia and is a naturalized US citizen since 1950. His professional training was in France, Switzerland and the United States, where he obtained a Ph. D. at Fordham University in New York in 1950. His main professional interest is the application of bioengineering to protein chemistry. He is the author of about 100 original papers, has edited three books in electrophoresis and membrane processes, and has six U.S. patents and a number of corresponding foreign patents. Prior to his present appointment, he was a Research Biophysicist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tucson, and previously was a member of the Faculties of Fordham University and Brooklyn Polytechnic
The current status of space bioprocessing within the NASA program of Materials Processing in Space has been reviewed. Up till now, this program has focused only on the process of electrophoresis. Current efforts are directed towards the optimization of existing equipment, the development of new instruments, and the selection of candidate materials for space processing. This latter problem is the most difficult to solve, because it presents too many options. On the one hand, separation of living cells by electrophoresis appears to be of great scientific merit, but the actual needs, economic value, and medical significance still remain to be established. On the other side, the purification of biologically important molecules, such as peptide hormones, proteins, enzymes, vaccines, etc., has received less attention, though its benefits are easier to evaluate.
There are numerous other possible areas of bioprocessing that may benefit from the unique environmental conditions prevailing in orbiting spacecraft. Limitation of funding and lack of basic scientific information on the effects of weightlessness were the main hindrances in their exploration. It is becoming increasingly evident that successful development of space bioprocessing will require far more extensive ground-based and space research.
It is an honor and privilege to have been asked to submit this paper
to the Committee on Science and Technology of the U. S. House of Representatives. Having submitted a paper to the prior review of the space program conducted by the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications, "Future Space Program - 1975", the present paper gives me an opportunity to review and update my previous statements.
For the past five or six years I have been associated as consultant and contractor with the bioprocessing end of the NASA program on Materials Processing in Space. This NASA program is aimed at the technological utilization of the unique environmental conditions prevailing in orbiting spacecraft. Foremost among these is the virtual weightlessness, a condition impossible to duplicate on earth.
The task of finding useful applications of weightlessness proved to be more difficult than anticipated, for gravity is a weak force, which has
but negligible if any effects on chemical reactions or equilibria.
Nevertheless, from a life scientist's point of view, this is a particularly challenging task, as gravity has set the stage of life as we know it. It provides us with a floor to stand on and push against; it also provides an axis of symmetry. It segregates solids and liquids from gases, governs the contours of lakes and oceans, and gives rise to rain, winds and tides. As a result, all but the most primitive animals and plants can detect the direction of the gravity force, and organize their whole life cycles correspondingly.
It is therefore not surprising that an opportunity to escape the confines of gravity has given rise to a great deal of initial enthusiasm within the community of scientists concerned with various technologies in