EarthSky | Why NASA sent tiny water bears into space

A brand new aboard the Worldwide Station (ISS) is learning tardigrades, tiny creatures also called water bears for his or her look underneath a microscope. Tardigrades can tolerate the most well liked and coldest environments on Earth, and might survive many years with out water. The brand new experiment – known as Cell Science-04 – goals to establish the genes concerned in water bears’ abiliy to outlive and adapt to high-stress environments, together with the one astronauts expertise in house. NASA said scientists hope the findings will help information analysis into defending people from the stresses of long-duration house journey.

The tardigrades arrived at the ISS on June 5, 2021 through the SpaceX Dragon cargo . However the Cell Science-04 water bears aren’t the primary tardigrades to go to house. In 2007, a European analysis staff sent 3,000 living tardigrades into Earth’s orbit for 12 days on the surface of a FOTON-M3 rocket (68% of them survived.). This time, the water bears can be dwelling onboard, inside particular science {hardware} that lets scientists perform long-term research of cultures of cells, tissues, and microscopic animals in house by permitting real-time, distant monitoring, and management over the tardigrades’ dwelling circumstances.

Microscopic water bears to assist defend astronaut well being

Tardigrades possess superpowers with regards to surviving actually harsh circumstances. They’ll stay for as much as 60 years, are in a to survive for as much as 30 years with out meals or water, and endure temperature extremes of as much as 150 levels Celsius (300 levels F), the deep sea and even the microgravity and elevated radiation ranges of house. The water bears survive excessive circumstances by going right into a state of suspended animation. Primarily, water bears can up and survive for years with out water and be carried round on the wind. After they do come into contact with water, they revive and get on with their lives as if nothing occurred.

The Cell Science-04 experiment will assist reveal how tardigrades do it.

College of Wyoming biologist Thomas Boothby is principal investigator of the experiment. Boothby stated in a statement:

We need to see what ‘tips’ they use to outlive once they arrive in house, and, over time, what tips their offspring are utilizing. Are they the identical or do they alter throughout generations? We simply don’t know what to anticipate.

Boothby stated that one possibility within the tardigrade bag of tips might be producing tons extra antioxidants to fight dangerous adjustments within the physique attributable to elevated radiation publicity in house. He said:

We now have seen them do that in response to radiation on Earth, and we predict the methods tardigrades have developed to resist excessive environments on this planet can also be what protects them in opposition to the stresses of .

Water bears look like this chunky, eyeless creature swimming among moss using its six legs.
Artist’s illustration of a (vastly enlarged )tardigrade or water bear. Picture through Ranger Rick.

NASA stated in a press release:

The analysis staff will have a look at what occurs with tardigrade genes in house. Realizing which of them are turned on or off in response to short-term and long-term spaceflight will assist researchers establish particular methods tardigrades use to outlive on this anxious setting. If one answer they’ve is to show up the dial on antioxidant manufacturing, for instance, genes concerned in that course of ought to be affected.

Checking which genes are additionally activated or deactivated by different stresses will assist pinpoint the genes that reply solely to spaceflight. Cell Science-04 will then check that are really required for tardigrade adaptation and survival on this high-stress setting.

In the long term, NASA stated, revealing what makes tardigrades so tolerant may result in methods of defending organic materials, comparable to meals and drugs from excessive temperatures, drying out, and radiation publicity, which can be invaluable for long-duration, deep-space exploration missions.

Backside line: A brand new experiment aboard the is learning tardigrades – aka water bears – to higher perceive how they tolerate excessive environments, together with the one astronauts expertise in house.


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