The weather allows today, Sunday, November 18, 2018, an assignment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the corresponding US and Japanese agencies, NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and will not be manned. However, all stakeholders are invited to complete this trip, which instead of astronauts transports small animals! Yes, you have read well: the current launch, which has been planned in detail for almost a year, is made to transfer certain strains of nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
Worm out of the atmosphere
Obviously, you will wonder what work can have just one millimeter mask in space. Answer this and other questions we asked him Nektarios Tavernarakis, President of the University of Technology and Research (HEI) and Professor of Medical Sciences at Crete University, whose research group cultivated and properly prepared space travelers. "This is a collaborative research co-ordinated by a British team that we, like researchers from the United States and Japan, participate in. Our goal is to study the effects on the long-term neuromuscular system in space. C. elegans is a well-studied experimental animal offered for this type of experiment. The astronauts who are already at the station will perform a series of experiments and then the test will return to the ground and the workshops from which they came to study further".
You may have noticed that when astronauts return to earth after months of falling under gravity, they can literally not stand on their feet. So you understand the interests of space organizations in such a research program: they would like to be able to protect astronauts from muscle atrophy now and beyond, as long as the ambitious plans for a manned mission on Mars are implemented. But, as pointed out by Mr. Tavernarakis, "This research program is not just about astronauts and space travel. Our results are expected to be utilized for reasons that concern us all. Cosmic radiation is found not only in space, it also reaches the ground and its effects can be very serious. We know that people carrying high-frequency transatlantic travel, people exposed to increased levels of radioactivity due to workplaces and living in cities with increased particle concentration, are at increased risk of suffering from neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, there may be no weight ratios on the ground, but the study of muscle atrophy mechanisms will be very useful in many pathological situations. The organization tends to keep what it stops to use. Sarkopy, the loss of muscle tissue observed in astronauts, is thus observed on the ground in paraplegic patients, but also in old age".
People and nematodes
But how does the microscope relate to humans and what kind of experiment will you do in space to make useful conclusions? "The molecular basis of sarcopy, the changes that occur when the muscle cell is atrophied is common in humans and C. elegans"Said Mr. Tavernarakis, explaining:"As far as the experiments are concerned, they have actually been done here in the lab. We have prepared transgenic nematode strains that grow up in space to give us answers to specific questions. For example, there are strains of animals that lack specific genes. This allows us to see how these genes are related to muscle atrophy, which of them have a protective effect or the opposite. Similarly, we have prepared strains that will be grown in the presence of drugs. This will reveal if any of the tested substances can protect against muscle atrophy or reduce its extent. This is a large collection of different nematode members that we have already sent to the Program Coordinator in England, which, after sampling all teams, sent them to NSAA, which also organizes the current launch. However, note that if the weather is not good, the launch can be transferred during one of the following days".
When astronauts get the precious cargo they will grow the different strains of nematode on behalf of researchers. Periodically they will receive and freeze at minus 80 degrees Celsius samples, all sent back to earth in about one year (by the end of 2019). It is worth noting that in order to freeze samples, astronauts must only expose them to outer space conditions of the space station, but in order to be sent to the ground, they need liquid nitrogen to keep them frozen (which is absolutely necessary to avoid changes due to decomposition) . It is striking that special cans and oxygen delivery devices have been designed for the trip of samples to and from the International Space Station. In addition, in addition to the actual samples, all nutrients needed for their survival and all tools for experiment will be sent with them.
Anxiety for response
But what exactly will happen when the samples return to the laboratories where they started? Apparently, their studies will be thorough: "An analysis of the entire genome of different strains will be performed to investigate possible DNA changes from exposure to cosmic rays. We will seek mutations and points where mutations are more common. However, epigenetic changes will be sought, changes not related to the DNA sequence itself but affecting how it is used and physiology of experimental animals will of course be studied to identify neurodegeneration and muscle atrophy. All of this will give us the answers we expected and which we could only get through this assignment"Said Mr. Tavernarakis All of the above is expected to be completed by 2020, but it is certain that the results will provide further research for many years to come. At the moment, however, it is clear that we will be tuned for each newer than the mission …