The chance to explore such radical modifications led Principal Investigator, Catharine Conley, a biologist at NASA Ames, to flatten some already flat-worms (or nematodes).
According to Conley
, humans die after one minute at 10 G because the blood gets centrifuged from the head.But the worms, with no circulatory system and a sturdy constitution, don't have that problem.In fact, these worms can naturally withstand 1,000,000 G or a force-equivalent of over a million-times their terrestrial weight.
To examine the worms as they spin, scientists are using a video system designed and constructed by students at Harvey Mudd College
, Claremont, Calif.
"By looking at what changes occur in the worms when they transition from high-G forces to normal gravity, we think we can predict what will happen to them when they experience near weightlessness during space flight," said Conley
."In the future, we want to fly the worms in space, subjecting them to microgravity to see if our predictions are correct."Microgravity (one-million times less than terrestrial levels) is close to 'zero gravity.'
"Radiation levels in space are much higher than they are on the Earth's surface," Conley
said."We know that elevated radiation increases the mutation rate of living things.Because these worms reproduce every four days, we can look quickly at many worm generations in space to see how radiation and microgravity may cause changes later," she
"Worms have already flown aboard the space shuttle, and it was found that they went through several generations without gross structural changes to their bodies," Conley
"Should our hypothesis prove correct, it will validate Caenorhabditis elegans [nemotode] as an extremely useful and cost-effective model organism for studying responses to space flight at the molecular, genetic and whole-organism levels," Conley
was planning her
current experiments that utilize a smaller, desktop centrifuge, she
would need a camera no bigger than an ice cube that could broadcast signals from the spinning apparatus to a TV monitor and recorder in real time.So she
turned to the Student Engineering Clinic at Harvey Mudd College
to produce the camera system.
"During spinning there are changes in the worms' gene expression that seem to help them compensate for the increased apparent gravity, allowing them to survive," Conley
...Dr. Conley's Research