Saturday, June 4, 2011

How worms are helping scientists understand the human health risks of space travel - 3rd June 2011

Sending millions of worms into space may not sound like it would reap many rewards.

But scientists who examined the effect of sending the microscopic creatures into orbit found they could help us understand the threats posed to human health by space travel.

They have also given experts an insight into how to stop the muscles of elderly and sick people from degrading.

The Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) worms, from The University of Nottingham, were taken from a Bristol rubbish dump and flown into space onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

They spent 11 days in orbit onboard the International Space Station more than 200 miles above the earth.

The type of worm, which feeds on bacteria on decaying vegetable matter, was chosen because many of its 20,000 genes perform the same functions as those in humans.

Experts in human physiology from the School of Graduate Entry Medicine wanted to study the effectiveness of feeding them RNA interference (RNAi).

It is a tried and tested technique which regulates gene expression in diseased tissue.

They wanted to see whether the same method could be used to reduce or control the dramatic muscle loss experienced by astronauts during spaceflight.

The results of the research, published in the PLoS ONE journal, showed RNAi functions normally in space flight.

It also revealed it could be used as a viable option to treat and control muscle degradation suffered by astronauts during space trips. Read More