In hope to better understand and treat treatment for muscular conditions for people on Earth as well as improving the wellbeing of astronauts, a team of scientists in the UK will see hundreds of worms sent to the International Space Station later this year.
Researchers from Exeter, Nottingham and Lancaster Universities involved in the project aim to establish the exact reason for muscle loss in space.
"The Molecular Muscle Experiment aims to understand the causes of neuromuscular decline in space. This research will help us establish the precise molecules that cause muscle problems during spaceflight and enable us to test the effectiveness of novel therapies for preventing the muscle decline associated with spaceflight," Nate Szewczyk, Professor of Space Biology at the University of Nottingham, said.
The effect of extreme environment — spaceflight being one of them — can lead up to 40% muscle loss for astronauts, after 6 months in space. The negative health changes are viewed by scientists as an example of the ageing process on earth.
The microscopic worms used in the project are called C. elegans. By sharing essential biological characteristics as humans and prone to same biological changes, the worms are invaluable to the scientists.
"Worms are, perhaps surprisingly, a very good model for human muscle maintenance. At the molecular level, both structurally and metabolically they are highly similar to that of humans and from a space flight specific perspective — they provide a lot of practical advantages. They are very small, quick to grow, cheap and easy to maintain. It makes them good to work with," Tim Etheridge, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, said.
Dr. Etheridge added that by understanding the molecular changes, causing muscle problems during spaceflight, it will provide the opportunity to understand human ageing on earth.
Spaceflight represents the accelerated human model of the ageing condition and so, hopefully, by understanding the molecular changes it may provide the opportunity to understand human ageing on earth.
The project is supported by the UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, BBSRC, MRC, and Arthritis Research UK. The launch of the worms is currently scheduled to take place between November 2018 and February 2019.