Worms on UK space mission
Hundreds of worms are being sent to space to understand why astronauts lose some of their muscle mass during spaceflight.
Astronauts can lose up to 40% of their muscle after six months in space, which can affect their ability to work on a long space mission.
The tiny worms, which can only be seen under a microscope, are known as C. elegans and share some of the essential biological characteristics of a human.
The team of scientists from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster Universities involved in this project hope to discover more about muscle loss in space, which in turn could lead to developing effective therapies and new treatments for muscular dystrophies. The research could also help boost our understanding about ageing muscle loss and even help improve treatments for diabetes.
The worms’ journey to the International Space Station – in orbit around earth between 205 and 270 miles away – will begin at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, US. The worms will reproduce in space and after growing to adults, in around 6.5 days, they will be frozen until return to Earth.
Sam Gyimah, Science Minister said: “It’s not every day that you hear of the potential health benefits of sending worms into space, but this crucial project which is also the first of its kind, could lead to better treatment for muscular conditions for people on Earth as well as improving the wellbeing of our astronauts.
“Along with our commitment through the modern Industrial Strategy to support our space sector to go from strength to strength, our world-leading research sector is consistently pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge for the benefit of all.”
The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council, as well as the European Space Agency, UK Space Agency and Arthritis Research UK.
The launch is currently scheduled to take place between November 2018 and February 2019.