A species of worm found in a rubbish tip will be blasted into space in the UK’s first experiment at the International Space Station.
Hundreds of one millimetre long roundworms will be launched into orbit by scientists hoping to analyse their rate of spaceflight-induced muscle loss.
Spaceflight is an extreme environment that causes many negative health changes to the body and astronauts can lose up to 40 per cent of their muscle after six months in space.
The health impact is viewed by scientists as an example of the ageing process on earth – and could even help improve treatment of diabetes.
The UK Space Agency, based in Swindon, Wilts., found the species living in a rubbish tip in Bristol. They have since bred more so there are enough of the creatures to send into orbit.
The tiny nematodes have been sent to the USA – and will be launched on the Space X Dragon capsule in November as part of the programme titled Molecular Muscle Experiment.
They will be sent up in a container no bigger than the size of a matchbox.
Sue Horn, head of space exploration at the space agency, said: “I’m really pleased to have experiments ready to be conducted on the ISS.
“It was difficult to get this approved as only the best ideas are selected.
“We have put a lot of research into finding this specific species for the experiment and we believe this will show great results.”
It marked the end of a difficult search and multiple attempts to find a worm most suitable for studying muscular dystrophy.
Sue added: “Understanding changes to provide opportunities to understand how humans age on earth and develop countermeasures for this is essential to the test.
“If this works it will help in so many ways with contributing to medicine on earth and it will also help astronauts.”
The microscopic worms, C elegans, being used in the experiment share many of the essential biological characteristics as humans and experience biological changes in space, including alterations to muscles and the ability to use energy.
C elegans worms have also been used to study genetics.
MP Sam Gyimah, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, said: “It’s not every day that you hear of the potential health benefits of sending worms into space, but this crucial project which is also the first of its kind, could lead to better treatment for muscular conditions for people on Earth as well as improving the wellbeing of our astronauts.”
The worms will be bred again at the space station and samples of medicine will be administered to them before they are frozen and brought back down to earth.
Experiments are expected to take around ten days and will be carried out over three months.