Worms are beating humans in the space race. Humans may have continuously occupied at the International Space Station for 10 years in rotations, but 12 generations of worms have reproduced and survived six months in space without a break, according to a new study.
Researchers are interested in the impacts of weightlessness and radiation levels on humans, so a team headed by Nathaniel Szewczyk of Nottingham University turned to experimental C. elegans worms to find ways of preparing humans for longer space flight possibilities.
Clearly worms are not people, Szewczyk, told Discovery News. Yet C. elegans and man have roughly the same size genome and as many as 50 percent of genes are conserved or identical between this worm and man.
Twelve consecutive generations of worms survived and reproduced aboard the International Space Station. Space did affect the worms - weightlessness resulted in worms with decreased movements. Yet despite some adaptations to their growth once they were brought back to earth they appeared healthy and fine, according to Szewczyk.
The Journal of the Royal Society Interface published the study online Wednesday.
To carry out their experiment Szewczyk and his team sent out 4,000 C. elegans to the International Space Station and observed them remotely for six months. Although the environment abroad the Space Station is supposed to mimic that of Earth, Szewczyk said the gravity is one tenth of Earth's with 10 times the radiation exposure.
Following the success of experiment, Szewczyk and his team hope to carry out further experiments that could potentially pave the way to learning more about the possibility of human colonization on Mars.
We would love to send worms to places like Mars and/or other planets, Szewczyk told Discovery News. The key challenge, and a major goal of this publication, is to convince governments and/or funding agencies that this can and should be done. From our perspective, the specific destination is not important. Rather, traveling beyond the Van Allen belts and especially for three to six months beyond this is key.