Effects of Microgravity on the Life Cycle of Tenebrio Molitor (Tenebrio Molitor) - 09.13.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Effects of Microgravity on the Life Cycle of Tenebrio Molitor (Tenebrio Molitor) experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) investigates how the microgravity environment of space affects the mealworm life cycle. Mealworms represent good test subjects because they are well-studied organisms. An automated laboratory apparatus images mealworm growth from larval to adult life stages and then returns samples to Earth based labs for more detailed analysis. This project was conceived by the Higher Orbits AIAA Division winning team – Operation Galaxy X (Herndon, VA).
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Gentry Barnett, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Michelle Lucas, Higher Orbits, Leesburg, VA, United States

Information Pending

Space Tango, Inc., Lexington, KY, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2017 - February 2018

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Mealworms are the larval stage of the black beetle. Able to survive off of a minimal fiber-based diet and high in nutrients, the mealworm is one of the most popular sources of alternative protein in developing countries. These alternative protein sources are imperative for future Earth population maintenance.
  • The purpose of The Effects of Microgravity on the Life Cycle of Tenebrio Molitor (Tenebrio Molitor) experiment is to evaluate mealworm growth stages and reproductive cycles in a space environment that may induce morphological adaptations or altered growth phases. This information could lead to a more efficient methodology for mealworm growth and harvesting for terrestrial consumption or long-duration spaceflight protein supplements.
  • In addition to alternative protein research, new technologies regarding more efficient means of mealworm growth may be relevant to earth-based companies interested in employing the mealworms ability to degrade polystyrene in waste disposal.


The Effects of Microgravity on the Life Cycle of Tenebrio Molitor (Tenebrio Molitor) experiment consists of several larvae of the same reproductive phase isolated and placed in a ventilated container for the duration of flight. In addition to the mealworms, the container houses oats to serve as mealworm food and housing and carrot slices to provide water. Incremental imaging provides identification of visual effects originating in response to microgravity. The hypothesis suggests the mealworms will grow larger and reach maturity faster in this environment. The experiment captures daily images for multiple generations of mealworms and evaluates discrepancies between this experiment and a terrestrial control.

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Space Applications
Mealworms advance space exploration by demonstrating how automated laboratory equipment is used to perform animal research in space. Identifying unique physiological effects of the space environment fosters further use of space as a laboratory.

Earth Applications
The effects of microgravity on mealworms provides information on animal growth under unusual conditions.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
The project is contained inside of an Invertebrate Observation Life Science CubeLab mounted to Payload Card-4 for ambient ascent. The crew installs the payload card into the TangoLab locker where autonomous operations occur. At the end of operations, the crew removes and stows the hardware for return to Earth. The hardware returns on the next returning vehicle in ambient conditions, and turned over to the Space Tango/PI team upon return.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

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Related Websites
Higher Orbits
Space Tango

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