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Worms in Space: The Molecular Muscle Experiment

Worms in space logo

Project update:

  • Worms were launched into space on 5 December 2018 and returned to Earth on 13 January 2019
  • The worms were returned to the University of Nottingham shortly after, and were unpacked from the cassettes they were housed in
  • Full analysis of the worms will commence later this year

This is part of a serious experiment to try and understand why astronauts lose some of their muscle mass in space.

During spaceflight an astronaut’s body changes. Losing muscle mass can affect their ability to work on a long space mission. Astronauts can lose up to 40% of their muscle after 6 months in space.

The very small worms, which can only be clearly seen under a microscope are C. elegans. It seems incredible but in many ways the tiny worms are similar to humans and share some of the essential biological characteristics. The worms help show the effect of changes in space, including alterations to muscle and the ability to use energy.

Understanding the causes of muscle loss in space may help astronauts in the future and address health problems on earth. Muscle loss caused by ageing might be better understood and the research could improve treatments for conditions such as diabetes.

The worms flew to the International Space Station began from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA on 5 December 2018. The worms reproduced in space and after growing to adults, in around 6.5 days, were frozen.

The worms were returned to Earth on board the Dragon spacecraft capsule, splash landing into the Pacific Ocean on January 13th 2019. The worms were returned to the University of Nottingham shortly after, and were unpackaged from the housing cassettes. Full Post-flight analysis of the samples will commence later this year.

This project is supported by The European Space Agency, UK Space Agency, BBSRC, MRC, and Arthritis Research UK.

For further information, see: Worms in Space: Molecular Muscle Experiment.


These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.

Video: Find out more about the project

Video: Discover why worms are used

Video: Worms in Space - BEIS animation

Worms in Space - Did you know?

  • Understanding spaceflight muscle changes in worms may help us improve human treatment for muscular dystrophies and diabetes
  • The worms will travel in special bags full of food that allow gases to pass through. The bags will be carried in an incubator
  • Spaceflight is an extreme environment and changes to the body such as the loss of muscle and bone mass, can be the equivalent of ageing over 40 years in around a year-long mission
  • The loss of bone mass in space is only partially recovered within a year of returning to Earth
  • Astronauts exercise daily to prevent harmful changes in the cardiovascular system and to prevent loss of muscle and bone mass
  • There are over one million different types of worms worldwide. But scientist use one particular type of worm for research. The C. elegans.
The small but mighty worm has helped improve medicine for humans.
A genome is a set of intructions that can be used to build a human or a worm.
Did you know worms are the only animals to live on all seven continents.

The Molecular Muscle Experiment is supported by

UK Space agency logo
Medical Research Council logo
European Space Agency logo
BBSRC logo
Arthritis Research UK logo