Rabu, 30 November 2011

The worms that could lead mankind's way to Mars

  • Worms can survive and reproduce in space
  • Worms found in rubbish tips share 20,000 genes with humans
  • 'Survivors' of mission returned healthy
It may be some time before man sets foot on Mars but the final frontier could soon be crossed by worms.
British scientists have successfully sent them on a mission to the International Space Station to test how they deal with space travel.
Not only did they remain healthy throughout their six-month mission but they produced 24 generations of offspring while in orbit.

Earthling: The tiny Caenorhabditis elegans soilworm is helping scientists to understand how humans could respond the rigours of inter-planetary space-flight
The team from the University of Nottingham carried out the research partly to understand how astronauts would be affected by extended journeys, such as a two-year trip to Mars.
A type of tiny worm found in rubbish tips – Caenorhabditis elegans – was deployed for the 200-mile journey because it shares more than 20,000 genes with humans and its muscles and central nervous system work in a similar way.

When the survivors – worms only live for a few weeks – returned to Earth to be studied, the scientists found they showed normal development movement, feeding patterns, and the capacity to reproduce.
The research could also help scientists understand more about muscle-wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy.
Space travel in zero-gravity conditions can cause dramatic muscle wastage in astronauts, as it appears to reduce the level of the protein myosin which keeps them strong. 

Space calling: The worms were kept aboard the International Space Station for six months, during which time they showed no adverse effects
Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk, who led the study, said it showed worms could be a successfully used as guinea pigs to test conditions on Mars.
He said: ‘While this sounds like science fiction, a fair number of scientists agree that we could colonize other planets, and will one day need to if mankind wants to avoid extinction.
‘Given the high cost of manned space missions and high failure rate for Mars missions we suggest that these worms as a cheap model to test some of the biological effects of long-distance space travel.
‘It may seem surprising but many of the biological changes that happen during spaceflight affect astronauts nad worms in the same ways.’
His team did a previous test in 2009 where they sent worms to space but only for four days before they were frozen for the return journey.

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