Yakult, JAXA to test probiotics in outer space


Beverage maker Yakult Honsha Co. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will start an experimental project in fiscal 2017 to examine how probiotics work on human health in outer space.

Under the project, some crew members of the International Space Station will regularly consume capsules of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota, which is included in the company’s flagship Yakult drinks.

Yakult has developed a technology to freeze-dry the live bacteria and keep them in capsules at ordinary temperatures for as long as nine months. Capsules containing the bacteria will be carried on a U.S. unmanned vehicle to the ISS as early as this month.

“The Shirota strain contributes to human health on Earth, and we hope it works in outer space as well,” Fumiyasu Ishikawa, head of the company’s central research institute, told a news conference on Wednesday.

As part of the project, saliva, solid waste and other samples will be taken from crew members before, during and after their stays aboard the ISS.

The collected samples will be analyzed for signs of any changes in their intestinal floras and immune systems.

The results will also be compared with those of other crew members.

In outer space, harmful bacteria are believed to increase in intestines, while immune systems are known to function less effectively. These are seen as challenges that need to be resolved to realize extended space travel, such as for missions to the moon and Mars.