Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Microgravity and cellular adaptation

Based on real-time readings on the ISS conducted by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, University of Zurich scientists Oliver Ullrich and Cora Thiel can now reveal that cells are able to respond to changes in gravitational conditions very quickly and continue functioning. The research team used the alleged oxidative burst an old evolutionary mechanism to exterminate bacteria via defense cells to understand how rat cells responded to changes in gravity.

Picture of experiment equipment. Credit: C. Thiel und Airbus DS
With the help of centrifuges, Cristoforetti altered the gravitational conditions on the ISS, that enabled the research team on earth to track how the cells reacted.

"Although the immune defense collapsed as soon as zero gravity hit, to our surprise the defense cells made a full recovery within 42 seconds." For Ullrich and Thiel, the direct evidence of a rapid and complete adaptation to zero gravity in less than a minute begs the question as to whether previous cell changes measured after hours or days were also the result of an adaptation process.

"It seems paradoxical," says Thiel: "Cells are able to adapt ultra-rapidly to zero gravity. However, they were never exposed to it in the evolution of life on Earth. Therefore, the results raise more questions regarding the robustness of life and its astonishing adaptability." In any case, as far as Ullrich is concerned the result of the ISS experiment is good news for manned space flight: "There's hope that our cells are able to cope much better with zero gravity than we previously thought."

Citation: Thiel, Cora S., Diane De ZĂ©licourt, Svantje Tauber, Astrid Adrian, Markus Franz, Dana M. Simmet, Kathrin Schoppmann, Swantje Hauschild, Sonja Krammer, Miriam Christen, Gesine Bradacs, Katrin Paulsen, Susanne A. Wolf, Markus Braun, Jason Hatton, Vartan Kurtcuoglu, Stefanie Franke, Samuel Tanner, Samantha Cristoforetti, Beate Sick, Bertold Hock, and Oliver Ullrich. "Rapid adaptation to microgravity in mammalian macrophage cells." Scientific Reports 7, no. 1 (2017). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-00119-6.
Adapted from press release by the University of Zurich.

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