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Mars Space Worms Science

How Tiny Worms Could Help Humans Colonize Mars 101

Posted by samzenpus
from the send-in-the-worms dept.
Pierre Bezukhov writes "The roundworm has about 20,000 protein-coding genes — nearly as many as humans, who have about 23,000. Furthermore, there is a lot of overlap between our genome and theirs, with many genes performing roughly the same functions in both species. Launching C. elegans roundworms to Mars would allow scientists to see just how dangerous the high radiation levels found in deep space — and on the Red Planet's surface — are to animal life. 'Worms allow us to detect changes in growth, development, reproduction and behavior in response to environmental conditions such as toxins or in response to deep space missions,' said Nathaniel Szewczyk of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. 'Given the high failure rate of Mars missions, use of worms allows us to safely and relatively cheaply test spacecraft systems prior to manned missions,' he adds."
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How Tiny Worms Could Help Humans Colonize Mars

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wait in welcome to our Martian roundworm overlords.

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:04PM (#38219708) Homepage Journal
    There's a reason C. elegans isn't used in basic cell cycle research as much as yeast. It doesn't continually replace its cells at maturity. Consequentially, DNA-damaging environmental conditions have a much lower chance of affecting them at maturity than humans.
    • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:16PM (#38219908)

      Perhaps the choice of test subject had more to do with the ease of tending to them automatically over such a long time frame; using larger organisms like lab mice would likely be impractical. Methinks the similarity in the size of the genome is a happy coincidence.

      What puzzles me is why it's necessary to send animals to Mars at all. Are there really that many more cosmic rays en route to Mars than there are where the ISS is?

      • by crakbone (860662) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:32PM (#38220186)
        The ISS is behind the Van Allen Belt and protected from a large amount of cosmic radiation by it.
        • by corbettw (214229)

          Well that explains why none of the astronauts and cosmonauts who have stayed on the ISS for months at a time have come back with super powers.

      • by drerwk (695572) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:35PM (#38220232) Homepage
        GP in first sentence says yeast is better than C.elegans. So I say send a beer to Mars, say a nice Belgian Trappist Ale.
        • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:40PM (#38220296)

          GP in first sentence says yeast is better than C.elegans. So I say send a beer to Mars, say a nice Belgian Trappist Ale.

          And you can send a few cans of Bud Light to see how the trip would affect water.

          • Throw in some rabbits for zero-g sex, and you'd see the effects of the trip on fucking close to water.

        • by jamesh (87723)

          GP in first sentence says yeast is better than C.elegans. So I say send a beer to Mars, say a nice Belgian Trappist Ale.

          Having beer there would help. I know of quite a few people who wouldn't even think about a trip to mars unless they were sure they could get a beer there.

        • by pr0f3550r (553601)
          Which would return to earth as 'Olympus Mons Pale Ale'. With catchy slogans like "A mountain of a beer" and "the beer that won't leave you flat", it is sure to be a hit.
      • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:38PM (#38220272)

        What puzzles me is why it's necessary to send animals to Mars at all. Are there really that many more cosmic rays en route to Mars than there are where the ISS is?

        Courtesy of the Magnetosphere [wikipedia.org], yes. The ISS is only about 300km up, while the magnetosphere extends over a dozen Earth radii (tens of thousands of km), blocking most radiation. There is far more in space than in Earth orbit.

        • It actually blocks charged particles. You'll notice radiation (like, say, visible light) penetrates quite readily. Ironically, the ISS is in the Earth's radiation belt [wikipedia.org].

          So you're all wrong, just not in the ways your wrong opponents think.

      • by drerwk (695572)

        Are there really that many more cosmic rays en route to Mars than there are where the ISS is?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetosphere [wikipedia.org] -- see some of the graphics for scale - ISS is at a few hundred miles.

      • by Fluffeh (1273756)

        Are there really that many more cosmic rays en route to Mars than there are where the ISS is?

        Actually, yes.

        You see the ISS orbits in Low Earth Orbit [wikipedia.org] due to the altitude of between 300 and 460 kilometers. This is well inside the magnetosphere [wikipedia.org] which extends for tens of thousands of kilometers into space. It is this Magnetosphere that protects both us here on earth and the astronauts up in the ISS from the same levels of radiation found in open space - even within our solar system.

        There are concepts to build a small magnetic field (similar to the Earth's Magnetic Field [wikipedia.org]) around spacecraft to protect th [nextworldweb.co.uk]

        • by Larryish (1215510)

          tl;dr

          Yes, because Earth has fucking magnets all over it.

          • by Fluffeh (1273756)

            Yes, because Earth has fucking magnets all over it.

            No, because the molten iron in the outer core of the earth produces immense amounts of electricity as it flows around making it basically a huge electromagnet with the magnetosphere as the electromagnetic field around it.

      • The genome size similarity is constant for most eukaryotes, with plants being an exception. Even yeast has around 20,000 genes, and it's not even an animal.
      • That being said, yeah. A single nematode lives for about 15 days and can have up to 400 offspring during that timeframe. They get lots of opportunity for cell division during the first week or so, but that younger tissue isn't necessarily representative of the whole organism. Another problem with using such a tiny worm is that the chance of a germline mutation (in the reproductive cells, therefore being carried on to all children) is much higher when the organism only has a few cells protecting it from spac
  • by thrillseeker (518224) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:06PM (#38219760)
    is a single kudzu seed
  • by DJ Jones (997846) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @06:07PM (#38219782) Homepage
    I'm seeing a Kevin Bacon movie in the making here.
  • How are they going to survive the sub freezing weather on Mars? And I'm guessing the frost line is pretty deep as well.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How are they going to survive the sub freezing weather on Mars? And I'm guessing the frost line is pretty deep as well.

      By eating warm-blooded, human settlers of course!

    • They're running a life support check for manned capsules, not releasing the worms on the surface. They would send a chimp, but it would be more expensive to build a test capsule that big.

  • use of worms allows us to safely and relatively cheaply test spacecraft systems prior to manned missions

    That is until the worms get to Mars, mutate, form an advanced society, build spacecraft and colonise Earth.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So then Mars... is.... ACTUALLY TATOOINE!!! How the Pit of Carkoon was REALLY created!

  • by g253 (855070)
    There are surely plenty of people willing to take the chance and go _now_, regardless of those comparatively small risks.
    • by hipp5 (1635263)
      But I'm not sure there are plenty of agencies or companies willing to spend billions of dollars on the necessary equipment to sustain a human en route to Mars only to have the experiment conclude with, "yep, it does seem that the conditions on Mars kill humans."
  • Ethics? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hmm, it seems to me that although the idea of sending some biological system to mars might be fruitful in the near term it misses some pretty important ethical questions. Specifically contamination, what if there is some life form on mars? How would the process of decay of the worms effect such a ecology by propagating organic earth native compounds onto martian soil? It seems quiet obvious to me that radiation results in mutation and destruction of organic life especially if exposed for long durations. I a

    • Overall, the missing component is realizing that mars has its own history, its own progress and adding earth forms like these into the system might perturb or even destroy any evidence living life on mars.

      And you think most people (other than Star Trek fans) would care about this why, exactly?

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Whyever would you think that these worms would be "released" into the Martian environment?

      Currently, I would offer that such worms would have a lifespan of about 30 seconds in the naked Martian environment, although that does led the potential pollution of the native environment, it doesn't say much about the worms. There would be no utility in doing this.

      I suppose you might consider an end-of-experiment strategy of simply dumping the container of worms on the Martian ground, but this would seem to be a hi

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @07:14PM (#38220670)

    If they are going to send parasitic worms with complex dna into space, I still think they should send politicians and *IAA lawyers instead. By most prevailing opinions, these subhuman creatures would service mankind far more as biological radio dosemeters than in their natural political niches here on earth. Yes, the expense of sending them would be much greater than sending the genetically and biologically similar roundworms, but this is FOR SCIENCE!

    • Wouldn't that be sort of like the B-Ark [wikipedia.org]? Oh, wait, no that would be an insult to management consultants and telephone sanitizers everywhere.
  • I knew they were from space!

  • These scientists have obviously never played Worms Armageddon [wikipedia.org]... just imagine the destruction if they control an entire planet!

  • by Veggiesama (1203068) on Wednesday November 30, 2011 @07:58PM (#38221002)

    "The miserable human has about 23,000 protein-coding genes — nearly as many as imperialist cyborg space monkeys, who have about 26,000. Furthermore, there is a lot of overlap between our genome and theirs, with many genes performing roughly the same functions in both species, despite the clear inferiority of human garbage. Launching imprisoned humans to Alpha Centauri would allow cyborg monkey scientists to see just how dangerous the high radiation levels found in deep space are to animal life. 'Incarcerated humans allow us to detect changes in growth, development, reproduction and behavior in response to environmental conditions such as toxins or in response to deep space missions,' said Oohoohahah Pooflinger of the University of Bananaland in Cyborgia. 'Given the high failure rate of Alpha Centauri missions, use of sniveling, pathetic humans allows us to safely and relatively cheaply test spacecraft systems prior to monkeyed missions,' he adds."

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Speaking of Alpha Centauri, anyone who is missing it and has Civ IV BTS and somehow hasn't yet discovered Planetfall (not the game, the Civ IV BTS mod) is missing out on something. It's way way different from Alpha C of course, but it's keen.

  • Untiil the worms mutate in to giant man-eating creatures that live and travel underground.

    Where are you when we need you, Paul Atreides?
    • Sounds like the start of the DUNE world to me......I never knew how to bridge that one,....until now.
      It all makes sense now....I just got to wait until we spawn a flying fat man and Sting...and we are good to go....

  • Isn't it strange?
    Way over there?
    Me here inside the soil-bed,
    You with no air.
    Send in the worms.

    Isn't it cold?
    Don't you get blue?
    One who's by oxygen fed,
    One CO2.
    Where are the worms?
    Send in the worms.

    Just when I'd stopped
    Chewing through gore,
    Finally knowing
    The spicule I wanted was yours,
    Making my wormhole again
    In my usual place,
    Ready for eggs...
    You're off in space.

    Don't you love Mars?
    It's your abode.
    I thought that you'd want what I want --
    Alas, nematode.
    But where are the worms?
    There
  • I wonder if the worms are any good at terra-forming?
  • I, for one, welcome our new worm overlords!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can see us sending round worms to a planet with life. The native life trying to figure out how this space ship with the only life form on it being little worms. How did they fly the spaceship? How to communicate with them? :)

  • Ok, so we send tiny little spaceships filled with worms to see if they die once introduced to the atmosphere, and to see how long they would survive if not....?

  • Aside from the obvious Dune implications here, I pictured that slug in Futurama spurting out Slurm...

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