Nicholas A. Veronico/Michael Mewhinney
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-1939 or 650/604-9000
June 8, 2005
NASA Scientists Collaborate with Russians on Gravity Studies
NASA scientists are collaborating with Russian colleagues in an effort to learn more about cell growth in space.
At the invitation of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems, investigators from NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley are participating in pre- and post-flight science experiments designed to examine gravity’s relationship to biological processes. The experiments were launched May 31 aboard the Russian Foton-M2 mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and will be recovered 16 days later when the capsule returns to Earth near the border between Russia and Kazakhstan. The European Space Agency and a number of other space agencies also are cooperating with Russia on this mission.
"We have a rich history of highly productive research carried out on Russian unmanned spacecraft over several decades. We are pleased to be working with our Russian colleagues in support of the Vision for Space Exploration," said Terri Lomax, deputy associate administrator for research at NASA headquarters, Washington.
“Our collaboration with the Institute of Biomedical Problems and the experiments aboard the Foton spacecraft will help us understand how the microgravity environment affects live organisms,” said Eduardo Almeida, NASA Ames principal investigator for both the gecko cell growth and ribbed newt tissue regeneration studies.
Studies conducted with specimens flown aboard the Foton-M2 mission will examine cell growth and morphological tissue changes in geckos, cell proliferation and tissue regeneration of ribbed newts, gene expression and neural re-adaptation of snail vestibular cells to Earth’s gravity, and spaceflight’s effects on genetic structures in bacteria.
“This is a unique study, and a unique opportunity to collaborate with our Russian counterparts,” Almeida said.
The two other American principal investigators, NASA Ames researcher Richard Boyle, and Barry Pyle of Montana State University, Bozeman, who are conducting separate studies, have been instrumental in facilitating the scientific goals of the Foton-M2 mission. Boyle is the NASA Ames science lead for Foton-M2 and is working with investigators at Russia’s Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology to study the neural and biochemical responses of snail statocyst receptors, which play essentially the same role as a human’s inner ear in giving balance cues, following microgravity exposure. They will investigate the process of re-adaptation to Earth’s gravity and how this affects coordination in the brain and nervous system.
Pyle is participating in an experiment studying the transient and permanent effects of spaceflight on genetic structures of the bacteria Streptomyces lividins. Mike Skidmore, the NASA Ames-based project manager, is teamed with his deputy, Marilyn Vasques, to coordinate all aspects of the American participation in this international Foton-M2 flight.
“We know that long-term space travel results in a loss of bone and muscle mass. Our participation in the Foton mission will allow us to accurately quantify the rates of cell growth in whole animals using nucleotide analog markers. The results from this study will be used to test our theory that gravity gives a signal for cells to grow, and that it promotes stem cell-based tissue regeneration,” said Almeida.
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