Researchers led by Deborah Kimbrell from the University of California, Davis have shed new light on how microorganisms alter fruit flies' immunity in space and in hypergravity, or increased gravity, a new study published in the journal Drosophila reveals.
This study suggests that having normal gravity or hypergravity on the space station may help mitigate some of the biological problems, including weakened immune response, in organisms living in space. Since fruit flies have similar immune response mechanisms to humans, this knowledge may help NASA create specialized counter measures to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space missions to an asteroid or Mars.
Knowledge that spaceflight weakens the human immune system obtained from years of research in microgravity has led scientists to use model organisms similar to humans to test out various scenarios of disease or weakened immunity in spaceflight. Model organisms, such as plants, fruit flies or microbes like yeast, advance our understanding of the influence of microgravity on cells. Taking these organisms to space allows for examination of growth and development and physiological, psychological and aging processes without the impact of gravity.
Drosophila melanogaster - the common fruit fly - was used in this study, due to its similar human immune function qualities, sharing characteristics of cellular and humoral, or extracellular fluids, immunity and signaling pathways. The fruit fly makes such a great model, in fact, that NASA developed a new Fruit Fly Lab in 2014 to accommodate continued study of Drosophila. This facility will support longer duration studies involving multiple generations of fruit flies.