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Space Science

Space Worms Live Long and Prosper 78

Posted by samzenpus
from the tell-him-about-the-worms dept.
astroengine writes "A microscopic worm used in experiments on the space station not only seems to enjoy living in a microgravity environment, it also appears to get a lifespan boost. This intriguing discovery was made by University of Nottingham scientists who have flown experiments carrying thousands of tiny Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) to low-Earth orbit over the years. It turns out that this little worm has genes that resemble human genes and of particular interest are the ones that govern muscle aging. Seven C. elegans genes usually associated with muscle aging were suppressed when the worms were exposed to a microgravity environment. Also, it appears spaceflight suppresses the accumulation of toxic proteins that normally gets stored inside aging muscle. Could this have implications for understanding how human physiology adapts to space?"
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Space Worms Live Long and Prosper

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I saw this pop up on the front page in real time!

    I guess slashdot's javascript is good for something..

  • Actually... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nexion (1064) on Monday July 09, 2012 @06:28PM (#40597185)

    It makes me wonder if I should be eating younger animals to avoid these toxins.

    • Try the veal. I'll be here all week.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      The toxins will likely pass through and get flushed. I wish that biologist who posts here would show up in the biology threads, she could confirm or debunk what I just said.

  • could (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Monday July 09, 2012 @06:28PM (#40597189)
    Could this have implications for understanding how human physiology adapts to space?

    Sure, it could. Anything could.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday July 09, 2012 @06:28PM (#40597193) Homepage Journal

    and eat more poo. Not sure that's really what I'd call much of a benefit.

  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nationless (2123580) on Monday July 09, 2012 @06:48PM (#40597333)

    I always wondered what kind of effect zero gravity would have on animals with certain traits;

    Will spiderwebs look the same?
    Does a fish swim differently in a floating body of water?
    Will a bird adapt to floating without wind?
    Will ants be able to place scent trails in mid air?

    The list goes on.

    • by White Flame (1074973) on Monday July 09, 2012 @07:02PM (#40597469)

      Will a bird adapt to floating without wind?

      From a bird's perspective, the world is their toilet. I can't see that adapting to microgravity very well.

      • eh, I dunno. On earth, they only get to shit "down". In space they could shit in any direction any time.
        • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

          by xevioso (598654) on Monday July 09, 2012 @07:26PM (#40597651)

          This is the difference between the word "bemute", which means to drop poo upon from a great height, and the word "bescumber", which means to spray with poo.

          One of these works in space, and one will not.

        • by Kittenman (971447)

          eh, I dunno. On earth, they only get to shit "down". In space they could shit in any direction any time.

          What's more, Newton's law (action, reaction) would infer that they then get 'pushed' in the opposite direction to their (er...) guano. A good thing, considering.

    • If spiders can learn how to build a web in zero gravity after a few tries (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Space/story?id=6301339&page=1), it's safe to say that birds/fish would probably be able to navigate, at least as far as physics allows them to. Obviously things like the magnetic pathfinding of birds would be useless in space.
      • Obviously things like the magnetic pathfinding of birds would be useless in space.

        Why? There's plenty of mag field in space - especially near-Earth space. If the habitat keeps a constant orientation with respect to the mag field and is built to allow it to penetrate the birds will have no problem. If not, a habitat large enough for it to matter, where magnetic-navigating birds are intended to fly free, will have a deliberately-generated field to keep them from becoming confused.

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I always wondered what kind of effect zero gravity would have on animals with certain traits;

      Will spiderwebs look the same?
      Does a fish swim differently in a floating body of water?
      Will a bird adapt to floating without wind?
      Will ants be able to place scent trails in mid air?

      The list goes on.

      I am in awe.

      You clearly should be working at NASA.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tastecicles (1153671) on Monday July 09, 2012 @07:08PM (#40597515)

      Absent gravity, spider webs are surprisingly symmetrical (a href="http://www.space.com/6142-spider-success-weightless-webs-spun-space.html">Linky).
      Mummichogs [newscientist.com] have been used to study motion sickness in space - they're apparently very adaptable to changing gravitational environments.
      As a matter of physics, flight relies on three things: lift, drag and thrust. In space, you don't need lift and drag (since these two factors depend on gravity), you're left with thrust. As birds don't have vector thrusting, I'd think they'd just flap around in fairly straight lines until they collide with walls.

      As for the ant question, I refer you to the recent broadcast by Kent Brockman:

      "The spacecraft has apparently been taken over - "conqured" if you will - by a master race of giant space ants. It's difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves."

      • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday July 09, 2012 @07:56PM (#40597889)

        In space, you don't need lift and drag (since these two factors depend on gravity), you're left with thrust.

        LIft is not a function of gravity, but a function of the shape and motion of the wing.

        Drag is a function of air pressure, surface area, shape and material. None of these are functions of gravity.

        Biggest problems birds should have flying in zero-G is that they're trained to fly in a 1G field just like we are, and would have to learn to do it all over in zero G.

      • What about hummingbirds, they are different somewhat right since they fly backwards and shit.

        • by cusco (717999)
          I think that of all the birds the hummingbird might fly best of any of them, since they have the unusual shoulder joint that allows their wing to rotate well beyond what other birds can. Birds will have to learn a new set of skills to control their flight in zero G, as most of their energy goes towards not falling out of the sky and relatively little to forward motion. I wish someone had taken a fe finches or a pigeon to the Space Station, but PETA would probably have a fit.
    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday July 09, 2012 @07:41PM (#40597795) Journal

      Will spiderwebs look the same?

      No. [space.com]

      Does a fish swim differently in a floating body of water?

      Yes, initially, though they appear to figure it out.

      Will a bird adapt to floating without wind?

      Tough to tell. Birds require gravity to swallow, so it'd have to be a really quick flight... [answers.com]

      Will ants be able to place scent trails in mid air?

      Not sure they've ever tried free-floating ants. They had to engineer an ant farm because the ants would have been crushed by dirt during lift-off. [kuriositas.com]

      And that's just after a quick google.

      • by cusco (717999)
        Only some birds seem to require gravity to drink water, others like honey dippers can drink while hanging upside down on a limb, and hummingbirds seem to have a different mechanism altogether.
  • by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday July 09, 2012 @06:49PM (#40597343)

    Since these critters also happen to be invertebrates, they also don't suffer from bone loss in that same weightless environment. It was my understanding that muscle atrophy in astronauts was a secondary worry when compared to the severity of bone loss during extended missions without gravity.

    I guess we need to engineer some "spacer" humans who have cartilage in place of bones? Spineless they might be, but I wouldn't wanna wrestle with one.

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      Its better to just design your long-term spaceflight vehicle to accommodate artificial gravity through centrifugal force. (Yes, I know it isn't a real force. That is immaterial here.)

      A well designed craft could include the rotating grav habitats as part of the attitude control system, so that altering effective gravity in them could flip the ship around, etc.

      It would greatly cut down on useage of control thrusters, and would resolve the gravity problem just fine. Make the grav habitats sealed away from spac

      • by cusco (717999)
        Or else have actual space colonists, rather than the current there-and-back astronauts. Find out what really happens after extended living in space. Does the calcium loss stop after a certain time? We don't know, we always do everything possible to prevent it. A colonist doesn't have to worry about whether his bones will stand up to Earth gravity, since it's a one-way trip. Put them up there and see what happens. Sure, most of them will die, but most early colonists have always died throughout history
    • by bughunter (10093)

      C. elegans is also a hermaphrodite. It seems to me that space can be pretty lonely, so much so that there's more than a little concern about their psychological. Perhaps we should go ahead and genetically engineer some spacer humans to have both sexual organs? Spineless hermaphrodites, kinda like Lisa Loopner's dad.

      Would you want to wrestle with one, then?

    • it would be a lot easier to engineer a space installation which spins; failing that (likely given the potential cost running into tens of billions, which no nation or even group of nations can afford right now), an attached structure on the ISS which spins independently of the superstructure, in which the occupants can enjoy some portion of earth normal gravity, albeit simulated. I'd connect something to the other end of the Columbus module... or wait until the Node connector is installed (apparently around

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      A spine made of cartilage is still a spine, Albeit a more pliable and squishy spine but, a spine never the less.

      Personally, I think the logical step is discarding the v1.0 Mansuits all together in favor of worm-like bodies, with stubby "mandible" like appendages for clinging and bio-engineered exoskeletal habitation units to replace our frail Mansuits. Extending the lifespan of a more simple organism who's brain was it's only organ of any real complexity would be a far better proposition. If these easily ma

  • I for one welcome our microgravity flourishing worm overlords!

  • As I understand it, in this latest experiment, they flew some worms in space, killed them (flash frozen with liquid nitrogen) and compared them with a control group on earth and then
    "... identified seven genes, which were down-regulated in space and whose inactivation extended lifespan under laboratory conditions..."

    You can read more here [nature.com].

    However, more amazing than worm just living longer, is how worms survived the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster [bbc.co.uk] (their progeny were discovered in the wreckage a few weeks la

  • Dundundun dunt! Dundundun dunt!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bless the Maker and His water. Bless the coming and going of Him. May His passage cleanse the world. May He keep the world for His people.

  • Anyone else immediately think of Han Solo ditching the Millennium Falcon in a space slug?

  • How many generations have the worms been up there for? I would theorise that under cosmic, solar and van allen radiation there is strong evolution pressure to deal better with radiation and thus free radicals, wheen in space. This would lead any organism evolved in space, to have, better anti-aging mechanism than earth bound mortals. I would think this would even work on humans, and would think that human from the year 3000, who had 40 generations in space would be much longer living than earth humans.
  • If we have to stick these worms in our ears [memory-alpha.org] to take advantage of this discovery, I'll pass.

  • ... you don't lose it, essentially. If the worm is mainly a string of muscle and the muscles aren't being used, then they last longer? What this makes me wonder is, if you exercise is there a trade-off between the waste your body accumulates from "muscle sweat" (can you tell I'm not a biologist? I'm not any kind of -ist. I only arrived here because I thought it was for sexy stories about people called "Dot". Like "Dot Cotton" and... and... look it was an ill-conceived idea from the start but I'm here now.)
  • Will my Healthcare insurance cover a healthy trip into space?
  • "There was a garden grove on Cit-Cit-Citadel Station...."

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