Search Ames


News Releases

Text Size

JD Harrington
Headquarters, Washington D.C.

Victoria Steiner
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-0176
March 8, 2005
NASA Scientists Create a 'Gene Map' for Healthier Kidneys
NASA scientists and academic colleagues are studying tiny hairs inside microorganisms to find clues about kidney disease.

Researchers at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), created the first complete map of the gene activity of flagella (microscopic hairs) on single-cell microorganisms.

"To accomplish the Vision for Space Exploration, NASA has to ensure astronauts' health by studying biological processes to develop treatments for potential physical problems," said NASA Ames Research Center Director of Science Dr. Guenter Riegler. "By collaborating with academia, NASA will be able to derive the best research possible to benefit people in space and on Earth," he added.

"Hairs on the cell surface in algae are virtually identical to human cilia, short hairs inside a human body that drive fluids across the surface of a cell," said Dr. Viktor Stolc, director of the NASA Ames Genome Research Facility.

"Understanding the genetic make-up of the cilia-like structures, through studying the complete genetic code in microorganisms, helps scientists gain a better understanding of polycystic kidney disease (PKD)," Stolc said.

According to the PKD Foundation, "Polycystic kidney disease is the most common genetic, life-threatening disease affecting more than 600,000 Americans … regardless of sex, age, race or ethnic origin." Numerous cysts grow and multiply on a kidney, causing the mass of the kidney to increase. Ultimately, the diseased kidney shuts down.

"Gene PKGD1 encodes a protein that is responsible for polycystic kidney disease among human subjects and is also a component of primary cilia in the kidney," said Stolc.

"In fact, several of the genes identified in the study are known to be involved in control of cell behavior and other tissues, raising the possibility that these same genes could be the missing link between cilia and polycystic kidney symptoms," said Dr. Wallace Marshall, assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF.

Using advanced micro-array technology, researchers were able to attach short pieces of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to specially-patterned glass slides to study genes throughout the algae's DNA blueprint, called the genome. The slide arrays were used to measure levels of ribonucleic acid (RNA), biochemical copies of the DNA, to identify the gene's functions and changes.

Scientists believe understanding cilia functions may lead to the development of countermeasures to prevent PKD, which is one cause of kidney stone formation. Mapping genome activity is creating important new knowledge that is being used for health care. The research results are applicable to astronauts on long-term space missions and to improving quality of life on Earth.

The study results are in this week's online version of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more information on the Internet about this research, visit:

For more information on the Internet about NASA's space research, visit:


- end -

text-only version of this release

To receive Ames news releases via e-mail, send an e-mail with the word "subscribe" in the subject line to To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to the same address with "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

NASA Image Policies