Space Station Worms Help Scientists Study Aging Process
WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) — Life in space speeds up the aging process. Even when astronauts are habituated to microgravity, six-month stints in space result in muscle atrophy, bone density loss, weakened cardiovascular stamina and immune suppression.
Unfortunately, researchers still don’t understand exactly why this happens — or what to do about it. Worms, however, may offer some clues. Researchers with NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are currently conducting an aging experiment involving worms.
Launched skyward on April 15, a group of roundworms is now safe and sound in chambers stored aboard the Japanese module on ISS.
For the next several weeks, scientists will monitor their health as compared to a control group back on Earth. Half the space-based group has lived in microgravity, while the other half has lived in artificial gravity.
Cameras inside the boxes will send researchers periodic images and video feeds of the worms, and sensors will monitor their movement to determine how the different types of gravity affect the aging process. Older worms typically move more slowly.
After the experiment is over, the worms will be frozen and shipped back to Earth for genetical analysis. Tests could help researchers determine how gravity affects aging-related gene expression.
“Aging rate and lifespan could be influenced by microgravity,” principal investigator Yoko Honda, a scientist with the Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital and Institute of Gerontology, said in a press release. “If that is correct, we may be able to identify novel genes that play a role in longevity.”