Imagining the life of human beings on other planets is not just a suggestive exercise for science fiction writers. It is also a challenge for scientists who wonder how space conditions affect our body, which, with implausible questions, reach such impressive answers as that living in space could increase life. At least, it seems that it is what happens to the worms of the Caenorhabditis elegans species, according to the study of a group of worms that traveled to the International Space Station in 2004 within the ICE-FIRST research project.
“This issue is not only intriguing from the perspective of basic science but also important from the aspect of space medicine, since the duration of space missions will increase in cases such as human exploration of other planets or colonization de la Luna,” the authors of the research explain in the article they have published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Once the worms returned to Earth, the team of researchers from the United States, Japan, France and Canada observed that they had lower levels of polyglutamine Q35 than those of a control group that had not traveled. The Q35 is a repetition of 35 amino acids of glutamine that is part of a protein located in the muscles, whose presence usually increases with age. According to the authors of the investigation, the fact that the worms that traveled to space had lower levels of Q35 is because their production had slowed down.
Since protein production is directly related to gene expression, the researchers thought that the spatial environment could have influenced the functioning of some genes involved in longevity control. The idea was good, and they found eleven candidates whose expression levels had been reduced in space worms. New experiments in the laboratory showed that if they inactivated seven of the eleven genes, the worms lived longer.
According to the specialist in muscle metabolism at the University of Nottingham Nathaniel Szewczyk, “these results suggest that an adaptive response is almost certain rather than pathological. Muscle can age less in space than on earth. It may also be that space flight slows the aging process.”
Regarding the role that the 7 genes on which the study has put the magnifying glass in the control of longevity, the authors of the article point to two options. “One possibility is that they are involved in the control of longevity through sensory perception or environmental signals,” they say. A second possibility is that the study genes affect the control of longevity through the signals between motor neurons and muscles.
Either way, the role of worms also deserves thanks. The microscopic crew of the experimental station became the protagonists of scientific work as it was the first multicellular organism of which all its genetic structure has been described. As many of its 20,000 genes perform the same functions as those of human beings, they are good candidates to guide scientific conclusions in the study of our organism. The results will eventually come.
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