Thursday, July 9, 2009

Worms in Space! (Caution! Geeky Content!)

"Worms in Space to Study Microgravity" (July 9, 2009)

"A transparent roundworm could reveal the biological effects of microgravity and space radiation, and perhaps provide clues on how to protect future human astronauts headed for the moon, Mars and beyond.

"The C. elegans worm's biological responses proved eerily similar to those of humans during a series of experiments aboard the International Space Station in 2004. Now researchers have published a review of their findings in the journal Advances in Space Research.

" 'At least at face value, this validates that you can use C. elegans to look at mechanisms of muscle atrophy in spaceflight,' said Nathaniel Szewczyk, a biomedical researcher at the University of Nottingham in the UK and member of the research team...."

I don't know about that "eerily similar" phrase: I'm not one of those 'animals are people too' folks, but I'm aware that what's inside our cells is quite a lot like what's inside most animals.

Linguistic oddities aside, this is a pretty good overview of another bit of research into how critters - and people - react to microgravity: a more technically-correct for 'free fall' or 'weightlessness.'

From the looks of it, biomedical researchers still don't know why muscles atrophy in microgravity - but they've got a better idea of specifically what they don't know. Which is progress.

The article touches on the technology involved in this research: a hands-off unit that will function by itself, without needing attention, for six months at a time. With a staff of about a half-dozen in the International Space Station, having labor-saving gadgetry is very important. There aren't any undergraduates or interns to change the litter boxes up there.

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