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article imageStudying worms in space to boost astronaut health

By Tim Sandle     Jan 23, 2015 in Science
Tokyo - A special study is taking place aboard the International Space Station. Astronauts are studying a roundworm to find out what the effects of being in zero gravity have on muscles.
The focus of the study is upon physiological problems that might occur during space travel. The reason for using the roundworm is because it represents a good "model organism," and many of the physiological effects that might occur with the worm can be transposed to people.
Spaceflight-triggered health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts. This is because, on Earth, people need gravity in order to develop strong bones and muscles. In space, even with a strict exercise regime, astronauts lose a degree of bone and muscle mass.
Furthermore, if deep space flight is to happen then various physiological issues need to be resolved. Astronauts on a mission to Mars could lose nearly half their muscle strength during the long trip, giving them the physiques of senior citizens by the time they arrived.
In addition the effects of space travel, scientists are also interesting in finding ways to help with people who become infirm as they age. One solution might be zero gravity. When people become bedridden, the inactivity also leads to a reduction in bone and muscle mass and the condition of atrophy. Atrophy is the partial or complete wasting away of a part of the body.
The worm being examined is Caenorhabditis elegans (a millimeter-long roundworm.) The worm is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The worm is also transparent, and this enables scientist to study more clearly exactly what is happening with the worm’s physiology.
The study on the worms is titled ‘Alterations of C. elegans muscle fibers by microgravity (Nematode Muscle).’ The scientists will study how the physiological systems of the worm alter in response to microgravity. The study will continue through four generations of the worm to determine if there are any physiological changes.
The studies on board the space station are being run by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Once complete, the results will be published.
More about Deep Space, Space flight, International Space Station, Worms
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