University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Students making eco-friendly medicine for future Mars inhabitants

A group of students from eight different study programmes are in one laboratory at the Thorvaldsensvej street complex. They have one goal. They have dedicated their summer holidays to making a mobile medicine ‘suitcase’ that future Mars inhabitants can take with them into space.

“Imagine that you are an astronaut and you are to live permanently on Mars. What medicine will you take with you? It is not an easy task. Most medicines can only keep for five years, and there are many indications that the durability of it decreases in space.”


· iGEM is the acronym for “international genetically engineered machine” and is a non-profit organisation

· Every year, the organisation organises a global synthetic biology competition

· Students from all over the world take part in the competition, which has its main office at MIT

· The knowledge created by the teams in the competition is shared on a large publicly accessible database

This is according to Frida Kampp, rhetoric student, and one of the brains behind ‘PharMARSy’. With twelve other students and seven supervisors, she has devoted her summer holiday to the project, which they present in October at the unofficial world championship in synthetic biology, iGEM.

The students have been in the laboratory and have found out how to produce proteins in an easier, cheaper and more sustainable way. This is something which coming Mars residents will be able to take advantage of on their space expedition.

“The aim is to develop a mobile laboratory which can be in a small suitcase. This will allow astronauts to save space on the spaceship, and they can quickly produce the medicine when they need it. This improves their chances of survival on long space journeys,” says Frida Kampp.

Faecal bacteria with built-in biological syringe

One of the other students behind ‘PharMARSy’ is Victoria Rasmussen, who is a student of molecular biomedicine. She explains that they will take advantage of mechanisms belonging to some e. coli bacteria.

“E. coli bacteria have a built-in biological ‘syringe’ that injects substances into our intestinal walls and makes us sick. This biological syringe can inject specific content from inside the bacterium without emitting any other material. This makes it suitable for medicine production, because it, instead of injecting poison, can be modified to inject medicine,” says Victoria Rasmussen.

Frida Kampp nods and adds that one of the advantages of the method is that it is not necessary to purify the protein after it has been produced, and this makes the process more sustainable.

“Normally, the purification process requires a lot of time, equipment, water and chemistry, and part of the protein is wasted in the process. If our project is successful, we will be able to skip the purification procedure, and this will make production more environmentally friendly,” she says.

At university, subjects tend to stay within their own academic bubbles. But iGEM is good at bursting these bubbles so that interdisciplinary interaction takes place.
Frida Kampp, rhetoric student

The students involved in ‘PharMARSy’ include Danish and international students from rhetoric, physics, biology, biotechnology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, biopharmacy, molecular biomedicine, and their supervisors. They are all volunteers and each day of summer they have met in the laboratory at Thorvaldsensvej, says Victoria Rasmussen and adds:

“Our study programmes all point in many different directions, and each of us therefore offers our own professional expertise. In addition, we have, from the start, all taken part on an equal footing in the whole idea-generating and selection process. And we have had a role to play in terms of planning fundraising, management and external communication.”

To take part in competition

In October, Frida, Victoria and the rest of the team will be on the rostrum to present their findings to the rest of the world.

This is at the non-profit iGEM competition, where students from all over the world put on their lab coats and develop new products and methods by means of synthetic biology.

Alot of people have already become aware of ‘PharMARSy’, which has won two medals at the Nordic Conference on Synthetic Biology, and the Nordic iGEM Conference.

Frida and Victoria are keeping their fingers crossed hoping that the project will once again be welcomed by the panel of referees. But no matter what the outcome, they all agree that it has been a fun and instructive process. They therefore call on other students across disciplines and faculties to participate in next year’s iGEM.

“The iGEM is for you if you are interested in research and entrepreneurship, and if you would like to try your hand at working with students in other fields. At university, subjects tend to stay within their own academic bubbles. But iGEM is good at bursting these bubbles so that interdisciplinary interaction takes place. The iGEM is therefore a particular kind of learning experience, which is hard to come by on a course, a student job or at university,” says Frida Kampp.

Read more about the iGEM and PharMARSy project here.