Russian researchers have recently reported the results of their brave experiment – sending living organisms to space aboard “Photon-M3” spaceship.
The “Photon-M3” vehicle has returned to Earth last month, bringing back containers with living organisms, which spent two weeks on Earth’s orbit. Scientists sent them there to find out how zero gravity affected their physiology and behaviour, since mutations, diseases and pandemics at alien planets and spaceships threaten to become reality, rather than remain part of science fiction stories.
Of course, it is not the right time to draw any global conclusions, however, experts consider “Photon”’s journey to be a success because its equipment worked properly and not a single organism died. Scientists wanted to know more about phenomena, with which crew of distant flights would come across – specific changes in metabolism and tissue regeneration, potential of terrestrial microflora, including mutations, pathogenicity and possible use of little organisms, and behaviour of various terrestrial animals. “Photon”’s crew consisted of 20 snails, 20 newts, 5 gecko lizards, 10 Mongolian gerbils, not to forget about cockroaches, silkworms and pupae of a local moth, sent to the orbit by students, who won the “Experiment in Space” contest.
Experiments with microorganisms and vertebrates were designed and prepared by think tanks form Russian research institutes in cooperation with Montana University and NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA). American scientists have developed portable containers, equipped with life support system for small animals and special video recorders for observing animal behaviour. Since Russian “Photon-M3” lacked a life supporting system, the scientists have built an isolated container for their experiment with gerbils. The container reminds of an isolated cabinet with terrariums, carrying fauna and thermostats with microflora on the upper berth and container with mice and air cans on the lower berth. Then scientists have imitated “Photon”’s conditions on Earth for further comparing of space results with terrestrial data.
Joint experiment of Russian medics, biologists and geneticists and Montana University was aimed at discovering impact of space flight on stability of bacterial genome and properties, controlled by bacterial genes, compared to same parameters, but under terrestrial conditions. For this purpose scientists have chosen microbes, which were either dangerous, or very useful, for example, blue pus bacillus (Pseudomonas aeruginosa), streptomycetes (antibiotic producers), famous biological destructors from Aspergillus genus and lactobacillus, participating in food supplement production.
How should we distinct animal behaviour under zero gravity conditions from the stress, which an animal feels, when it flies all around the room, wondering where the floor is? Scientists from the Institute of Developmental Biology suggested following solution: they have sent to space geckos, which have sticky paws and can feel like standing on the firm ground anywhere. Reptiles returned in good health, however, scientists still do not know what has been happening in the container during the flight.
As for zero gravity impact on tissue regeneration, for this purpose scientists have selected their usual object – newts. Finger bines, tails and eyes, which were damaged before the flight, have regenerated as fast as they do on Earth. However, despite regenerated tissues and extremities functioned well, microscopic studies showed their inner structure appeared to be unusual. Researchers still have no idea about the impact of zero gravity on regeneration of mammal tissues, for instance, cosmonauts, in case of serious injury. Example of one gerbil with a broken paw shows that bones heal slowly and end up very fragile due to the lack of load.
Mongolian gerbils were put inside a specially designed container with air, food and water, as well as life supporting system similar to that of a real manned spaceship, and sent to the orbit by scientists, studying animal physiology. Scientists expect interesting results and report that these aggressive animals didn’t do each other any damage, despite a narrow cage they were sitting in. Scientists chose Mongolian gerbils for the experiment because these mice use to live in the Gobi desert and never drink a lot, and cosmonauts are known to suffer from strong dehydration under zero gravity. Tissues of these animals will tell researchers more about this curious natural physiological mechanism and its possible use for human beings. Snails were useful for the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and NASA’s Research Centre, who investigated receptor settings in statocysts, responsible for detecting top and bottom (similar to vestibular apparatus), and corresponding gene expression.
Silkworm successfully pupated, but covered with silk thread the branch instead of its own body, due to the lack of gravity. Moths felt well, but their parasites also felt well, thus scientists now know that parasites will follow their hosts even to space. Scientists now plan experiments with artificial gravity on the orbit, because no one knows how long earthlings can live without it. Next “Photons” will carry mammals.
Russian Science News