Living at low gravity affects cells at the genetic level

Space exploration can have negative effects on living organisms. The important side effects of long-term weightlessness include muscle atrophy and skeletal deterioration. Other notable effects include slowing of the functions of the cardiovascular system, decreased production of red blood cells, balance disturbances, visual disturbances, and changes in the immune system.

There is no doubt that space does mysterious things to a body. Numerous studies reveal cellular changes in the spinal cord, eyes, and brain which in many cases look like deterioration due to diseases on Earth, especially those related to aging.

What exactly is happening to your body in space?

A new study from the University of Exeter and NASA GeneLab seems to find the answer. The research could help understand why living organisms, including humans, suffer from physical decline in space.

The study includes an experiment on space worms. Genetic analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans worms on the International Space Station has shown “subtle changes” in about 1,000 genes.

Scientists have observed strong effects on certain genes, especially among neurons. This indicates that living at low gravity affects cells at a genetic level.

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

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

Scientists exposed worms to low gravity on the International Space Station and high gravity in centrifuges during the experiment.

High-gravity testing gave analysts more information about the genetic impacts of gravity and allowed them to research potential drugs using high gravity in space.

Senior author Craig Willis, University of Exeter, said: “A crucial step in overcoming any physiological condition is first to understand its underlying molecular mechanism. We have identified genes with roles in neuronal function and cell metabolism that are affected by gravitational changes. “

“These worms exhibit molecular signatures and physiological characteristics that closely mirror those observed in humans, so our results should provide the basis for a better understanding of the decline in health induced by spaceflight in mammals and ultimately , humans.

Dr Etheridge added: “This study highlights the current role of scientists from Europe and the UK in spaceflight life science research.”

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

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