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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
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
24-215 0 - 78 - 20
SPACE BIOPROCESSING STATUS AND POTENTIALS
Professor, Engineering and Microbiology
Tucson, Az. 85721
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. 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. 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
This initial enthusiasm had few outlets
were preciously few opportunities for space experimentation aboard the
Apollo Missions and the Skylab. Nevertheless, these few experiments,
scattered as they were among a great variety of specific disciplines
ranging from metallurgy to biology, have confirmed, at least in principle,
some of the benefits of weightless operation. However, they have not
permitted us to clearly identify the areas of immediate practical utiliza
This is not surprising:
even in ground-based technologies, there
1s usually a time lag of ten to twenty years between an original observa
tion or idea and its technological utilization.
These experiments have
mainly shown the lack of knowledge in this area and the need for further
scientific exploration, utilizing both ground-based and space facilities.
Thus, the initial enthusiasm has now given way to a more sober and mature
evaluation of the true potential benefits of weightlessness - in antici
pation of the greater experimental opportunities aboard the Shuttle.
CURRENT EFFORTS IN SPACE BIOPROCESSING
NASA's program in space bioprocessing has been confined until now
virtually exclusively to the study of separation processes, and more speci
fically to the process of electrophoresis. Separation technology is of great importance for the most diverse areas of biology and medicine: aims at the isolation and purification of such diverse products as pure
cell populations, discrete subcellular components, purified proteins,
enzymes, hormones, various genetic materials, intermed tate metabolities,
Many of these products are used directly and are available
in commerce, while others are used only in research. Within this broad
area, a number of techniques are used and electrophoresis is particularly