Researcher’s at the University of Nottingham recently sent C. elegans, a popular animal model, into space on the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Why?

Well, to learn about how Space effects gene transcription of course! In particular, the functioning of RNA interference (RNAi).

One of the major problems with Deep Space travel is muscle atrophy. In zero gravity, astronauts suffer from dramatic muscle loss. To address this problem, the researchers used RNAi to block proteins (lysosomal cathespsins) necessary for muscle atrophy. As reported in “The Effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans Is Maintained during Spaceflight“, the researchers confirmed that RNAi functions in space as it does on Earth and effectively prevented the degradation of muscle-specific α-actin proteins.

Not only is this good news for the prospects of Deep Space travel, but this research also provided the first evidence that RNAi can be utilized to prevent muscle protein degradation on Earth for pathologies in the sick and elderly!

Space-based scientific experimentation?! Now thats always a dangerous idea…and for that we thank you C. elegans!

NIFarious Ideas is a regular weekly column on the NIF Blog that appears every Friday. We seek to highlight the avant-garde, the dangerous, the progressive, the cutting edge in software tools, databasing, ontologies, searching, data collecting and distributing, and of course, neuroscience trends. Join us each Friday!