The astronauts' repair of the international space station captured media attention during the space shuttle flight in May. But inside the orbiter, a life science experiment took another small step toward creating a technology that may eventually save thousands of lives around the world. The latest trial in a study ongoing for two years, the experiment involved a gene transfer in soybeans that the researchers hope will lead to edible vaccines, among other products, in the not-too-distant future. The Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Producers' Natural Processing (PNP), a West Lafayette, Ind., biotech company, are directing the study; it is part of the first wave of research projects in NASA's drive to commercialize space.

The payload consisted of 1,000 germinating soybean seeds. In orbit, astronauts aboard the shuttle added a solution that contained an agrobacterium as the vector to deliver...

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