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NASA sending water bears, baby squid to the International Space Station


Nasa has sent glow-in-the-dark baby squids and about 5,000 tardigrades, also called water bears, to the International Space Station.

They were part of the 22nd SpaceX cargo resupply mission.

Key Highlights:

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  • The water animals, which will be launched aboard SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the ISS, are part of experiments that could help scientists design improved protective measures for astronauts going on long-duration space travel.
  • The experiments are also aimed at better understanding how beneficial microbes interact with animals, potentially leading to breakthroughs in improving human health on Earth.
  • The water bears and bobtail squid will be involved in experiments aboard the floating laboratory, and will be arriving in a semi-frozen state before they are thawed out, revived and grown in a special bioculture system.

Other upcoming experiments include testing the effectiveness of the remote operation of robotic arms and space vehicles using virtual reality, how to better protect against kidney stones during spaceflight and how to produce tougher cotton in order to reduce water and pesticide use & studying the oral microbiome (that’s in your mouth). These experiments will join the hundreds of others currently ongoing abroad the orbiting laboratory. 

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Why Squids in space?

  • Baby bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes) is relative of the cuttlefish.
  • These tiny cephalopods are an interesting organism as they glow in the dark. That’s thanks to a specialized organ in their ink sac that lights up at night.
  • Researchers are hopeful that the squids could help shed some light on how microbes in animals react to spaceflight. To that end, NASA is sending newly hatched squid paralarvae (babies) to space to study how the relationship between the squid and a group of symbiotic microbes behaves in microgravity, as part of a research investigation called UMAMI (short for “Understanding of Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions”). 
  • Microbes play a significant role in the normal development of animal tissues and in maintaining human health.
  • The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health.”
  • The experiment is composed of two Fluid Processing Cassettes (FPC) — made by Techshot, an aerospace company out of Indiana that helps facilitate research investigations on the ISS — that will house an experimental group and a control group. 
  • Once the experiment has run its course, the paralarvae will be euthanized and the samples stored for return to Earth. Scientists are hopeful that the investigation could lead to new ways to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions. 
  • It could also lead to a better understanding of the complex interactions between animals and beneficial microbes, and the discovery of new pathways that microbes use to communicate with animal tissues. 

Why Tardigrades in space?

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  • Tardigrades, (water bears), can live in the most extreme environments, making them a fascinating organism to study.
  • Researchers have been able to sequence the tardigrade genome (Hypsibius exemplaris) and have gone one step further, by developing methods of determining how environmental conditions affect gene expression in tardigrades. 
  • As part of an investigation called Cell Science-04, scientists hope to identify which genes are involved in the adaptation and survival of tardigrades in high-stress environments, like microgravity. 
  • The experiment will run for two months on station and the tardigrades will ship to the ISS frozen, and be subsequently thawed after the experiment is activated.
  • A reverse genetic approach was developed for this investigation, which will use RNA interference to directly investigate the role a specific gene plays in tolerating the environment. 
  • Identifying the mechanisms used by tardigrades to protect themselves from environmental stresses could help researchers better protect astronauts. 

Source: Indian Express


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