Fruit flies aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery will help University of Central Florida and University of California, Davis, biologists learn more about how prolonged stays in space could affect human immune systems.
The flies will need little care during their 12-day stay aboard the shuttle, which is scheduled to launch Saturday, July 1, from Kennedy Space Center. Astronauts will only have to replace their food tray once.
When the flies return to earth, Laurence "Laurie" von Kalm, an associate professor of biology at UCF, will work with Deborah Kimbrell, a UC Davis associate research geneticist, to evaluate their responses to bacteria and fungi and compare them to the responses of flies that did not go into space.
"The primary question being asked is whether the immune system is compromised from prolonged space travel," von Kalm said. "Are they more susceptible to infection than the flies that don't travel into space?"
NASA provided Kimbrell with a grant to fund the research, and Kennedy Space Center is providing a lab where von Kalm, Kimbrell and their colleagues will test the flies for two weeks after the shuttle returns. Scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center, Rice University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are also part of the research team.
NASA's goal is to find out how extended stays in space, such as a trip to Mars, could affect the health of astronauts, von Kalm said.
Fruit flies can help NASA move closer to that goal because certain aspects of the genetic makeup of their immune systems and humans' are similar. Also, a 12-day stay in space qualifies as prolonged for fruit flies because they only live for about four to six weeks.
Kimbrell sought von Kalm's help because of his experience working with fruit flies and because of UCF's proximity to Cape Canaveral. Four of von Kalm's graduate students and a senior research assistant will join him at Cape Canaveral to conduct the post-landing tests.
Von Kalm, who began teaching at UCF in 1997, focuses most of his research on the effects of steroid hormones on the development of fruit flies. Because of their genetic similarities to humans, the flies provide a good model for understanding how steroids can affect the development of humans, he said.
The flies on the shuttle will travel in 10 small containers, each of which is about the size of a computer zip disk. Two separate groups of flies will be kept in a Kennedy Space Center research lab during the mission.
To help researchers rule out variables aside from gravity that could affect the flies, one group will be subjected to the same temperatures and vibrations experienced during space flight. The other group will be kept in normal room conditions.
The shuttle also will carry a small amount of a fungus known as "Beauveria bassiana," an approved organic pesticide that is not harmful to humans. Kimbrell, von Kalm and their colleagues will examine whether the reduced gravity makes the fungus more potent.
Flies will be exposed to fungi from the shuttle and fungi kept in a lab, a move that will help determine if various effects are results of the flies' weakened immune systems or the fungi becoming more virulent in space.
The future direction of Kimbrell's and von Kalm's research will depend on the results of the upcoming experiment and the level of cutbacks in funding for NASA's life sciences research.
The shuttle launch will be the second NASA mission in the last two months with ties to UCF research.
UCF optics professor James Harvey and two graduate students designed the Solar X-ray Imager on board the GOES-N satellite that was launched in May. The new X-ray telescope will help to improve the monitoring of weather activity such as hurricanes. It also will aid in monitoring and predicting space weather, which can disrupt cell phones, cause blackouts, interrupt airline traffic and damage or destroy instruments on multimillion-dollar satellites.
Chad Binette | EurekAlert!
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy