Recently, researchers have revealed that tiny roundworms on International Space Station (ISS) may help astronauts fight muscle and bone loss.
Two Japanese 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, like the fruit fly, 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 might also be beneficial to people on Earth suffering from muscle and bone diseases.
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. This will simulate the force of gravity while the C. elegans remain physically in orbit, allowing a direct comparison of the effects of different gravity levels on organisms in space.
A different JAXA investigation currently on station has been taking a much closer look at C. elegans by examining their DNA. The Epigenetics in spaceflown C. elegans (Epigenetics) study launched to the space station on the SpaceX CRS-5 resupply mission. 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. The worms will return to Earth in the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in January.
This simple, tiny roundworm could lead to a cure for symptoms affecting millions of the aging and infirm population of Earth, and the astronauts orbiting it, potentially offering a solution to a major problem in an extremely small package.