Spaceflight may help you live longer, say scientists at the University of Nottingham. The group of researchers reports that the impact of spaceflight on a microscopic worm — Caenorhabditis elegans — could extend its life.
Scientists looking at the loss of bone and muscle mass experienced by astronauts after long periods of time in space made this fascinating discovery. Their research was published Thursday in the online journal Scientific Reports.
Dr. Nathaniel Szewcyk of the University of Nottingham was part of a team of scientists from Japan, France, the United States and Canada who found that spaceflight curbed accumulation of toxic proteins that typically amass within aging muscle.
The scientists also uncovered a group of genes that are expressed at lower levels during spaceflight. After lowering the expression of these same genes in worms back on Earth the worms lived longer.
The researchers were able to examine the loss of bone and muscle mass experienced by astronauts after long periods of time in space by sending millions of microscopic worms into space. The goal of the spaceflight was to help understand the threats posed to human health by space travel. In the past, the worms have helped scientists learn more about blocking muscle degradation in the sick and elderly.
The worms traveled into space onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. They joined the human astronauts already living onboard the International Space Station, spending 11 days in orbit more than 200 miles above the Earth.
The researchers say that many of the worms’ 20,000 genes carry out the same functions as those in humans. Scientists from the School of Graduate Entry Medicine wanted to examine the effectiveness of RNA interference. RNAi, according to experts, is a common technique for regulating gene expression in diseased tissue. Scientists wanted to see whether this technique could be deployed to reduce or control the muscle loss experienced by astronauts during spaceflight.