Biotech and Space: Interview with Francesc Gòdia, director of the MELiSSA pilot plant

Francesc Gòdia is a Full Professor of Chemical Engineering at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) since 1993. Teaching activities in Biotechnology and Chemical Engineering. Coordinator of the Biotechnology Doctoral Program at UAB.

His research activity is focussed on Regenerative Technology for Life Support in Space and Animal Cell Technology for the production of biopharmaceuticals, recombinant vaccines and vectors for gene therapy. Overall Manager of the MELiSSA Pilot Plant a joint facility of UAB and ESA (European Space Agency), as part of the MELiSSA Consortium, developing life support technologies for long term human missions in Space. Author of more than 115 papers in JCR journals, 5 patents, 9 book chapters and advisor of 33 PhD thesis. Member of the Scientific and Organizing Committee of several International Congresses. Coordinator of the ESACT International Courses on Animal Cell Technology and Cell-based Viral Vaccines.

Vice-President of the European Federation of Biotechnology. Member of the Executive Board of the European Society of Animal Cell Technology. President of the Blood and Tissue Bank of Barcelona. President of Fundació Parc Taulí (Hospital Sabadell, Barcelona).

MELiSSA is the acronym for Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, an innovative Project of the European Space Agency that was initiated as part of a research programme on life support Technologies, in order to facilitate long duration manned space missions.

These types of missions cannot be performed without regenerative life support systems like MELiSSA and other ESA life support technologies that will drastically reduce the amount of logistics needed to support the crew (without recycling, 30T for a 1000 day Mars mission). For this, a closed ecological system is proposed, with the generation of edible material from higher plants and microalgae, revitalization of atmosphere for respiration, recovery of water, and recycling of the wastes generated by the crew and plant growth.

The MELiSSA project is targeting ideally the recycling of 100% of all chemical elements, i.e. a fully self-sustainable ecosystem without any resupply. In terms of processes, control, stability, safety, robustness, this target represents a very high challenge.

The recycling challenges of MELiSSA are reinforced by the closed environment conditions and the presence of humans. As a consequence, intensive characterization, comprehensive integration, verification, validation and qualification activities are mandatory steps in the development and validation of MELiSSA.

The MELiSSA project is an international and multidisciplinary collaboration which began with a core team of nine partners, including ESA, i.e. SCK/CEN (Mol, B), VITO (Mol, B), University of Ghent (Ghent, B), Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Barcelona, E), University of Guelph (Guelph, CND),University Blaise Pascal (Clermont-Ferrand, F), SHERPA Engineering (Paris, F). The coordination of the Consortium is done by ESA, at the request of the rest of the partners. As the project develops, more and more European and Canadian companies and organizations are contributing to the joint venture, bringing complementary expertise where needed (today more than 30 organizations from 11 countries have contributed to MELiSSA). The scientists and engineers of MELiSSA are from various horizons (academic organizations, industries) and gather a comprehensive multidisciplinary expertise (microbiology, modelling, process engineering, biotechnology, system engineering, nutrition, automation, genomics, proteomics, etc.).

We want to thank Francesc Gòdia again for his collaboration, and we hope you enjoyed this interview tackling current and future topics of concern!

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