Time Spent in Orbit May Alter Astronauts’ Genes


Spending long periods of time in low-gravity environments might alter genes.

Scientists discovered that spending long periods of time in low-gravity environments might alter genes. In order to complete their experiment, researchers used magnets on Earth to simulate the weightlessness of space.


Researchers studied fruit flies, which after having spent time in the artificially generated microgravity, experienced changes in crucial genes. While humans won’t necessarily respond the same way, it’s something that indicates what could happen as organisms spend longer amounts of time in free-fall.

The researchers haven’t yet been able to separate the effects of microgravity and magnetism, states Raul Herranz, a molecular biologist at the Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas in Spain.

The upcoming study was published in BMC Genomics and focused on using magnetic technology, since sending anything into space is extremely expensive ($10,000 per pound to get something into low-Earth orbit.) It’s already known that astronauts in space lose as much bone each month as they would in a year on Earth.

Fruit flies raised in low gravity developed slowly and had difficulty reproducing. The researchers discovered 500 changes in the fruit flies’ genes, some of which regulated immune response, temperature, and even stress response.

Weightlessness alone seemed to modulate nearly 200 genes, which could build up for an astronaut traveling to Mars, spending years in zero gravity.

Reference: “Microgravity simulation by diamagnetic levitation: effects of a strong gradient magnetic field on the transcriptional profile of Drosophila melanogaster” by Raul Herranz, Oliver J Larkin, Camelia E Dijkstra, Richard JA Hill, Paul Anthony, Michael R Davey, Laurence Eaves, Jack JWA van Loon, F Javier Medina and Roberto Marco, 1 February 2012, BMC Genomics.
DOI: 10.1186/1471-2164-13-52

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