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Drosophilae return from space mission safe and sound

November 23, 2011, 18:43 UTC+3
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, who ended his space mission on Tuesday
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MOSCOW, November 23 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, who ended his space mission on Tuesday, has brought two glass capsules with dozens of Drosophilae flies that hatched from the larvae while in orbit. The flies will help researcher understand how space flight conditions affect the intensity of mutation process.

“All the species are safe and sound, first flights started to leave their adult pupae overnight,” the experiment’s head Olga Larina told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.

The Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft that launched from the Baikonur space centre on November 14 delivered two packages with the so-called “bio tourists.” The first package contained eggs flyblown by adult flies a day before the space mission started. The second one had 80 larvae. While in orbit, the larvae pupated but flies hatched already on Earth. “We sent a certain number of larvae, which produced only one generation of flies, so it is not difficult to count all the flies,” Larina said.

According to the experiment’s head, its main goal is “to understand how space flight conditions affect the intensity of mutation process in Drosophila.” The object for research was chosen not accidentally: the system of repair of genes in flies has much in common with the human. The number of structural genes in humans is only twice as big as in Drosophilae, and thanks to their high reproduction rates, researchers may get a big volume of research materials in just a couple of weeks.

The key factor of a space flight that impacts the frequency of mutations is radiation. Apart from that, living creatures have to deal with zero gravity, vibration, electromagnetic rays, etc. Having studied the peculiarities of mutagenesis in the space flight conditions on the example of animal models, researchers will be able to use this information to develop methods to reduce the risk of the damage of integrity of the astronauts’ genome during long interplanetary flights.

The experiment has been staged on board spacecrafts for more than ten years. In 2001, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2011, flies were sent to the International Space Station (ISS). Apart from that, flies orbited on board the Bion satellites. Another “team” of Drosophilae will be delivered to the International Space Station by the Progress cargo spacecraft in April 2012.

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