Hibernating Might Help During Extended Space Journeys

Jun, 2021 - By SMI

Hibernating Might Help During Extended Space Journeys

Astronauts face variety of hazards on a space mission. Experts believe that going into a state of hibernation could help them to survive longer journeys.

Getting humans to Mars safely will present a number of scientific obstacles, one of which is the critical issue of human health. Changes to the gut micro biome, reactivation of dormant viruses, leukemia and dysfunctional mitochondria, to mention a few examples, may be a risk for astronauts spending lengthy periods in space, but new research in Zebrafish has demonstrated how induced hibernation may help decrease the risk. High radiation environment of space can cause a variety of health problems, including muscular atrophy, bone loss and clouded vision. Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast drew inspiration for their solution from the way some animals employ hibernation to protect themselves from harsh environments, and turned to Zebrafish to test their theories. 

Zebrafish have a surprisingly similar DNA to the humans. They are frequently used as models for scientific research and might also help battle blindness, understand sleeping patterns and heal damaged hearts. Scientists created torpor, a type of hibernation in which the animal’s metabolic activity is reduced. The scientists put one group of zebrafish into torpor while another served as a control and both groups were exposed to level of radiation that humans would encounter on a six-month journey to Mars. They next looked at gene expression in both groups using genomic analysis. The researches noticed oxidative stress, DNA damage, stress hormone signaling and alterations in the cell division cycle in typical Zebrafish. They also discovered that in hibernating Zebrafish, the lower metabolic activity provided radiation protection by reducing oxidative stress and boosting the identification and removal of misfolded proteins. 

According to Mr. Thomas Cahill, co-first author of the study, the Zebrafish indicated that a drop in metabolism and oxygen concentration in cells promotes less oxidative stress and greater radiation resistance while induced in torpor. While there is still much work to be done before this strategy can be confirmed to be beneficial for space-faring humans, the scientists describe it as strong preliminary proof. MDPI Cells published this Journal. 

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