Space biology is about to take off
(Image: Kim Shiflett/NASA)

 

Stem cells aboard SpaceX will seed mice back on Earth

12:44 28 February 2013 by Sara Reardon

Stem cell research is taking off – literally. When the SpaceX Dragon capsule sets off for the International Space Station on 1 March, its cargo will include frozen embryonic stem cells – kick-starting a clever experiment that uses short-lived mice to investigate the human health effects of long-haul space flights.

The idea is to expose mouse cells to space for stretches of time longer than a mouse’s lifespan and then to use the cells to create live mice. Such experiments could represent the start of a boom in space biology enabled by commercial space firms such as SpaceX, based in Hawthorne California, that have been responsible for ferrying supplies and experiments to the space station since the NASA shuttle retired in 2011.

In May 2012, the Dragon capsule became the first commercial craft to dock with the space station. The latest launch, planned for next week, will be SpaceX’s second official supply mission..

Takashi Morita of Osaka City University in Japan and colleagues are taking advantage of the trip to perform some experiments. Astronauts and animals sent to the space station have returned to Earth with damage to their immune systems, red blood cells, or reproductive systems – thought to be caused by low gravity combined with high radiation from solar particles and cosmic rays.

Morita’s team is using mice to study how humans sent on much longer missions – for example, to a 501-day trip to Mars planned for 2018 and announced yesterday – might fare. It is feared that exposure to radiation in space may make them infertile or more susceptible to cancer.

Read more: Stem cells aboard SpaceX will seed mice back on Earth – space – 28 February 2013 – New Scientist.

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