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Lula and the Tardigrada will go into space in an Elon Musk rocket

Lula and the Tardigrada will go into space in an Elon Musk rocket

For the first time, the International Space Station (ISS) will receive a squid. Not just one, but 128 chicks of tailed squid (a kind of mollusk that glows in the dark), accompanied by 5,000 tardigrades, are the most resistant microscopic animals in the world.

Next Thursday (3), SpaceX, a company owned by billionaire Elon Musk, will carry out its 22nd mission to refuel the International Space Station and bring supplies for astronauts, as well as squid and tardigrades for study in microgravity.

Scientists aboard the International Space Station will study the behavior of squids in space to see if microgravity affects their relationship with beneficial microbes. Tardigrades, on the other hand, will have their fame as “indestructible” at stake in the harsh space environment.

New International Space Station passengers will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:29 pm (Brasilia time) on Thursday (3). The launch will be broadcast live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.

Squids and their microbes

The little squids that will go into space are part of an experiment called “umami” (short for “understanding microgravity in animal-microbial interactions”, in English), led by Jimmy Foster, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Science prison cell From the University of Florida, USA. The goal is to study how these animals relate to their natural microbes in space.

“Animals, including humans, depend on microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system,” Foster said in an interview with CNN. “We don’t fully understand how space alters these beneficial interactions. The Umani experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark squid to investigate these important animal health issues.”

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According to the scientist, squid-tailed dogs, which measure just three millimeters, are ideal for studying like this because they are easy to transport into space and have an immune system similar to that of humans. The bodies of these animals glow in the dark when they are “colonized” by a type of bioluminescent bacteria found in Earth’s waters.

On the International Space Station, squids will be exposed to these bacteria and astronauts will watch if they continue to glow in the dark in microgravity and how the relationship between them and microbes changes in this different environment.

“As astronauts explore space, they take a sac of different microbial species with them,” Foster said. “It is important to understand how these microbes, collectively called the microbiome, change in the space environment and how these relationships are established.”

This isn’t the first time a squid has gone into space. Foster herself had already studied the relationship between these animals and shiny bacteria in microgravity in 2011, when NASA’s space shuttle Endeavor took them to orbit around Earth.

Tardigrades astronauts

Water bears, as they are known as tardigrades, have a simpler task: to survive. These microscopic animals are already famous for their resistance to desert droughts, literally biting cold, and heat levels that turn water into steam. But do they survive space?

An illustration of the tardigrades

Photo: Getty Images

However, it is not the first time that tardigrades have been sent into space. It is even possible that some of them may have “colonized” the moon after a spacecraft carrying thousands of them crashed onto Earth’s natural satellite in April 2019.

Thomas Boothby, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, USA, is the leader of this new experiment. The goal this time, he says, is not to see whether tardigrades will survive, but to watch exactly what they do to adapt to space’s microgravity environment.

The idea is to understand which genes are being activated to allow these organisms to adapt to space. “Understand how to protect astronauts and other living things from stress [da microgravidade] It will be necessary to ensure a safe and productive space in the long term. “