Feeds

British garbage worms survive in space without human help

Extraterrestrial nematode freed from mankind's dominance

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A worm family that originated in a rubbish dump in Bristol has successfully returned from a space mission, proving for the first time that worms can survive untended in space.

Studying the effect of space travel on worms has big implications for understanding how humans can survive in space – if and when we have to flee our planet and set up colonies in distant worlds.

Nottingham university researcher Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk has been a part of boffinry teams that have sent worms into space twice before, but this latest mission marks the longest stretch that the microscopic Caenorhabditis elegans worms have survived in space and been recovered. A group of boffins led by Szewczyk sent up the latest batch of space worms with the space shuttle Discovery. The worms have now returned, 12 generations later, records their paper, published today in Interface, a journal of the Royal Society.

The self-sustaining wormery used a liquid rather than an agar to support the worms and was developed with teams at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Colorado and the Simon Fraser University in Canada. The automated set-up transferred a subset of worms to fresh food every month. The worms were filmed and monitored remotely to observe the effect of environmental toxins, in-flight radiation and the lack of gravity on their muscles.

And biologically, we humans have a lot in common with our fellow earthlings. C elegans was the first multi-cellular organism to have its genetic structure completely mapped and many of its 20,000 genes perform the same functions as those in humans. Two thousand of these genes have a role in promoting muscle function and 50 to 60 per cent of these have very obvious human counterparts.

Dr Szewczyk said:

While it may seem surprising, many of the biological changes that happen during spaceflight affect astronauts and worms and in the same way. We have been able to show that worms can grow and reproduce in space for long enough to reach another planet and that we can remotely monitor their health.

It opens the door to worms being sent out on unmanned missions and lets us test out the biological effects of space travel in a relatively cheap way he added.

But won't we be sorry when we finally get to Mars and discover that the worms have taken over? ®

Remote automated multi-generational growth and observation of an animal in low Earth orbit was published on 30 November in Interface, a journal of the Royal Society, and authored by Nathaniel Szewczyk with co-authors Elizabeth Oczypok1, Timothy Etheridge, Jacob Freeman, Louis Stodieck, Robert Johnsen and David Baillie.

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Beancounters tell NASA it's too poor to fly planned mega-rocket
Space Launch System would need another $400m and a lot of time
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.