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Life at low gravity affects cells at the genetic level

Space exploration can have negative effects on living organisms. Significant adverse effects of long-term weightlessness include muscle atrophy and skeletal deterioration. Other notable effects include slowing of cardiovascular function, decreased red blood cell production, imbalances, vision disorders and changes in the immune system.

There is no doubt that space does mysterious things to the body. Many studies have revealed cellular changes in the spinal cord, eyes and brain that in many cases resemble deterioration due to Earth’s diseases, especially those related to aging.

What exactly is happening to your body in space?

A new study from NASA’s University of Exeter and GeneLab seems to have found the answer. Research can help understand why living organisms ̵

1; including humans – suffer physical decay in space.

The study includes an experiment with space worms. Genetic analysis of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans at the International Space Station showed “subtle changes” in about 1,000 genes.

Scientists have observed strong effects in some genes, especially among neurons. This indicates that life at low gravity affects cells at the genetic level.

Dr. Timothy Etheridge of the University of Exeter said, “We looked at the levels of each gene in the worm’s genome and identified a clear pattern of genetic change. These changes may help explain why the body reacts badly to space flight. “

“It also gives us some therapeutic goals in terms of reducing these health effects, which are currently a major barrier to deep space exploration.”

During the experiment, the scientists exposed the worms to low gravity on the International Space Station and high gravity in centrifuges.

High gravity tests gave analysts more information about the genetic effects of gravity and allowed them to search for potential drugs using high gravity in space.

Lead author Craig Willis of the University of Exeter said, “An important step towards overcoming any physiological state is to first understand its basic molecular mechanism. We identified genes with roles in neuronal function and cellular metabolism that are affected by gravitational changes. “

“These worms show molecular signatures and physiological characteristics that accurately reflect those observed in humans, so our findings should provide a basis for a better understanding of the space-induced decline in mammalian health and ultimately in humans.

Dr. Etheridge added: “This study highlights the continued role of scientists from Europe and the United Kingdom in space research.”

Magazine reference:
  1. Craig RG Willis et al. Comparative transcriptomics identified neuronal and metabolic adaptations to hypergravity and microgravity in Caenorhabditis elegans. DOI: 10.1016 / j.isci.2020.101734

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