BRITISH worms have been blasted into space – as part of a study into muscle loss.
Hundreds of microscopic wrigglers lifted off from Florida on Thursday onboard a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.
The research team behind the project aims to uncover the causes of muscle changes during spaceflight, and work out how to prevent them.
Muscle wasting is known to affect astronauts aboard the ISS and poses a big problem to anyone on future trips to distant planets.
Led by scientists from the Universities of Nottingham and Exeter, the group say the worms, “C. elegans”, share many biological traits with humans.
“Worms are, perhaps surprisingly, a very good model for human muscle maintenance,” said Dr Tim Etheridge, a senior lecturer at Exeter.
“At the molecular level they are highly similar to that of humans and from a space flight specific perspective – they provide a lot of practical advantages.
“They are very small, quick to grow, cheap and easy to maintain. It makes them good to work with.”
The CRS-22 mission, conducted in partnership with billionaire Elon Musk’s rocket firm SpaceX and the UK Space Agency, took off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral.
Once they’ve arrived the station, which orbits roughly 250 miles above Earth, worms will be placed in an incubator for up to six days for study.
What is the ISS?
Here’s what you need to know about the International Space Station…
- The International Space Station, often abbreviated to ISS, is a large space craft that orbits Earth and houses astronauts who go up there to complete scientific missions
- Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it
- It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000
- Ever since the year 2000, people have lived on the ISS
- Nasa uses the station to learn about living and working in space
- It is approximately 250 miles above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite
- Living inside the ISS is said to be like living inside a big house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth
Astronauts will monitor the tiny creatures’ for alterations to their muscles and their ability to store energy.
Kayser Space, based in Oxfordshire, has developed the hardware for the experiment.
The worms will be housed in culture bags inside 24 matchbox-sized experiment containers, each containing three culture bags.
The research will build on a similar experiment from 2018 and will test new molecular causes of, and potential therapies for muscle loss during spaceflight.
Discovering more about muscle loss in space will also expand our understanding of how ageing affects our muscles.
This could lead to more effective therapies and new treatments for muscular dystrophies here on Earth.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Experiments in space push the frontiers of knowledge and provide real-life benefits for the rest of us back on Earth.
“It is astonishing to think that sending worms into space could improve our health and help us lead longer lives, and I am thrilled that UK researchers are leading this effort.”
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Would you like to go to space? Let us know in the comments…
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