Wriggly business: Hundreds of worms to fly to space to help understand human muscle loss

To help scientists understand more about human muscle loss and preventative measures to take, hundreds of tiny worms are set to blast off to the International Space Station (ISS).

A box containing Caenorhabditis elegans samples, a species of nematode, which are being sent to space, to the ISS on Thursday, to help scientists understand more about how astronauts experience muscle loss in space and how to prevent it (Photo: University of Exeter/PA Wire).

The nematode worm species, known as Caenorhabditis elegans, will be flown to the ISS on Thursday as part of a new project involving UK scientists.

Scientists hope that the research could help shed light on developing new treatments for muscular dystrophies - a group of inherited genetic conditions that gradually cause the muscles to weaken.

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The mission follows on from previous research carried out by the same team in 2018, who were investigating how molecular changes in space affects muscle and metabolism.

The worms being put in their match box 'spaceship' containers (Photo: University of Exeter/PA Wire).

These new experiments will aim to identify the precise molecules that cause these muscular problems and also test out new therapies to prevent muscle loss in zero-gravity.

Amanda Solloway, science minister said: "Experiments in space push the frontiers of knowledge and provide real-life benefits for the rest of us back on Earth.

"It is astonishing to think that sending worms into space could improve our health and help us lead longer lives, and I am thrilled that UK researchers are leading this effort."

Known to share many biological characteristics as humans, the worms are about 1mm in size.

All the worm spaceships lined up (Photo: University of Exeter, PA).

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They are also affected by the biological changes caused by living in space, including changes to muscle mass and the ability to use energy.

Dr Bethan Philips, associate professor of clinical, metabolic and molecular physiology at the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, said: "Since the dawn of the space age, there have been concerns that space travel can be harmful to astronauts.

"We are very excited that this latest mission will enable us to build on the work we have already done to not only further explore what causes muscle loss with spaceflight, but to also look at how to prevent it.

"This work will have implications not only for astronauts but also for many situations on Earth."

Culture bags will home the worms inside 24 matchbox-sized containers.

They will then be flown to the space station on SpaceX's Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

On board the ISS, these containers will be placed into the incubator in the station's Columbus Module where the experiments will be conducted.

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