Loss of muscle and bone mass in Space – Worms are the answer!


Tiny roundworms, might be the answer to keeping astronauts healthy in space. Two Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigations on the International Space Station, help researchers seek clues to physiological problems found in astronauts by studying Caenorhabditis elegans – a millimeter long roundworm that is widely used as a model for larger organisms. The results of the investigation could lead to new treatments for bone and muscle loss in humans living in space. Findings may also be beneficial to people on Earth suffering from muscle and bone diseases. Gravity helps in blood circulation and keeping the muscles and bones healthy. However, astronauts on long journeys in space as well as people who have been on prolonged bed rest on Earth face similar problems. The inactivity, even removing simple daily movement, can have a negative effect on the bones and muscles of the infirm or elderly. Patients on prolonged bed rest experience muscle atrophy, bone density loss and changes in metabolism, similar to the effects of long-duration spaceflight.

Image: Caenorhabditis elegans (Source: NASA)
Image: Caenorhabditis elegans (Source: NASA)

One investigation, scheduled for launch to the station on the SpaceX’s sixth space station resupply mission in 2015, is called Alterations of C. elegans muscle fibers by microgravity (Nematode Muscle). It will look into the muscle fibers and cytoskeleton of the roundworm to clarify how those physiological systems alter in response to microgravity. Space station crew members will grow these worms in microgravity, as well as another batch in one-g using a centrifuge. A different JAXA investigation currently on station is taking a much closer look at C. elegans by examining their DNA. It requires astronauts on the orbiting laboratory to grow four generations of the worm, with adults and larvae from each generation preserved at different points during their lifespan.

Worms grown in each investigation will be compared to similar batches grown in a laboratory in Japan. Understanding the molecular changes that take place in microgravity could help researchers develop treatments or therapies to counteract the physical changes associated with ageing and extended bed rest, such as muscle atrophy or osteoporosis, and could help develop treatments or exercises for astronauts on long voyages. This simple, tiny roundworm could lead to a cure for symptoms affecting millions of the ageing and infirm populations of Earth, and the astronauts orbiting it, potentially offering a solution to a major problem in an extremely small package.

This article is based on materials provided by: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/nematode_muscle/#.VMu3eGiUe_g

Disclaimer: This articles does not reflect any personal views of the authors/editors

Previous articleFunctional brain tissue grown in 3-D structure
Next articleSignals of biotech industry boom in China
Scientist-entrepreneur-manager-journalist: -Co-founder, Author; Former Assistant Editor and Director, Biotechin.Asia, Biotech Media Pte. Ltd.; -Founder & CEO, SciGlo (www.sciglo.com); -Programme Management Officer, SBIC, A*STAR (former Research Fellow). --Sandhya graduated from University of Madras, India (B.Sc Microbiology and M.Sc Biotechnology) and received her Ph.D from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She worked on oxidative stress in skin, skeletal, adipose tissue and cardiac muscle for a decade from 2006-2016. She is currently working as a Programme Management Officer handling projects and grants at Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Earlier to this she was a Research Fellow in the Fat Metabolism and Stem Cell Group at SBIC. Sandhya was also the Vice President and Publicity Chair of A*PECSS (A*STAR Post Doc Society) (2014-2016). Recently she founded a platform for scientists - SciGlo (www.sciglo.com) and is a startup mentor at Vertical VC (Finland). She is an ardent lover of science and enjoys globe trotting and good vegetarian food.