Beam us down, Scotty

June 14, 2007

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SFU geneticist Bob Johnsen will be reunited later this month with the descendents of a group of worms he sent to the International Space Station six months ago.

He’s hoping this 28th generation of the original worms
(C. elegans) will help him to determine the kinds of genetic mutation that can occur from radiation exposure in space.

He expects the worms will have mutations, but not too many, since their radiation exposure aboard the space station, which is in a near-earth orbit, was not significant. This trip, says his SFU research colleague David Baillie, will also assess the materials used for their food and lodging in space, in preparation for sending more worms on a mission to the moon or to Mars, where they will encounter significant radiation.

The scientists’ ultimate goal is to understand what impact lengthy radiation exposure will have on humans who travel in space. C. elegans and humans both have about 20,000 genes and share about 4,500 of them.

The worms are travelling to their ancestral home aboard the space shuttle Atlantis and are scheduled to land at Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 19, when Johnsen will pick them up.

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