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Space worms set to help researchers understand muscle loss

Tim Etheridge from the University of Exeter with some of the worms in test cassettes. Copyright: University of Exeter
News from: Molecular Muscle Experiment

Following a space flight to the International Space Station and back to earth thousands of tiny worms are set to help researchers understand more about muscle loss in astronauts.

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

The Molecular Muscle Experiment is being led by a team of scientists from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster universities.

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

For more information, please see: Worms in Space: The Molecular Muscle Experiment.



UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: health news Lancaster University University of Exeter The University of Nottingham human health