Researchers Say Spaceflight May Help Microscopic Worm Live Longer

Posted on July 8, 2012

C Elegans Worm Lives Longer in Space

New research has shown that spaceflight may extend the lifespan of a microscopic worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). Some of these worms were launched into space onboard a Soyus TM4 rocket in April, 2004. The experiment involved a consignment of live worms being despatched to the International Space Station (ISS) onboard the Dutch DELTA mission.

The researchers discovered that spaceflight suppressed accumulation of toxic proteins that normally accumulate within aging muscle. They also discovered a group of genes that are expressed at lower levels during spaceflight. When the expression of these same genes were lowered in worms back on Earth the worms lived longer. Take a look:

Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk, from The University of Nottingham, was part of the ICE-FIRST project which involved scientists from Japan, France, the US, and Canada. Dr. Szewczyk, an expert in muscle metabolism, says the results could mean that spaceflight slows the process of aging. He says, "Well, most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space. These latest results suggest that this is almost certainly an adaptive response rather than a pathological one. Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of aging."

C. elegans made news in February 2003 when it was discovered that specimens had survived the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. The worms used originate from a rubbish dump in Bristol, U.K.. They often feed on decaying fruit and vegetable matter.

The results of this research were published here in the online journal Scientific Reports.

Image: University of Nottingham

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