Matthew Brabender uses SCSGC NASA Research Fellowship to Research ways to Recycle Human Waste in Outer Space

March 13, 2018

During the 2017-2018 school year, Matthew Brabender was awarded an undergraduate student research fellowship through the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium (SCSGC), which will enable him to continue his ongoing research with Dr. Mark Blenner in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department.  The SCSGC was created through the National Space Grant Act of 1988 and funds a variety of programs that promote research, education, and public service activities related to NASA.

Limited storage capacity during long-term space missions establishes a need to recycle waste products in outer space. One possible method for reducing waste accumulation involves converting human waste into value-added products. The first project Matthew worked on examined the possibility of utilizing human urine as an alternative nitrogen source to culture the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica. Through his research, he concluded that human urine is a feasible nitrogen source for Y. lipolytica biomass and lipid accumulation. Lipids can be used for the manufacture of a variety of products, including nutraceuticals. More information on this project can be found in the article, “Urea and urine are a viable and cost-effective nitrogen source for Yarrowia lipolytica biomass and lipid accumulation”.

Matthew is currently working on a project involving the production of fatty alcohols with Y. lipolytica. Fatty alcohols are used in the production of detergents and surfactants.   With the help of fellow researchers and his advisor, Matthew is trying to engineer a strain of Y. lipolytica that produces high yields of fatty alcohols. Once this is accomplished, he will attempt to grow the strain with human urine as a nitrogen source and cyanobacteria as a carbon source.    If successful, this would allow for the sustainable production of fatty alcohols and could prove highly useful in resource limited environments.

To view a related article about Dr. Mark Blenner’s Research Group, please go to this link:

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