Research: Flies on ISS benefited greatly from simulated gravity

Scientists have found that providing fruitflies 1g of artificial gravity on ISS using a centrifuge acted to reduce the medical changes that weightlessness produces.

In this study, scientists sent flies to the space station on a month-long mission in a newly developed piece of hardware called the Multi-use Variable-gravity Platform (MVP), capable of housing flies at different gravity levels. The flies in this hardware had access to fresh food as they lived and reproduced. By using distinct compartments, the MVP allowed for different generations of flies to be separated. On the space station, one group of fruit flies experienced microgravity similar to their human counterparts. Another group was exposed to artificial gravity by simulating Earth’s gravity on the space station using a centrifuge – an instrument that spins to simulate gravity. While on the space station, cameras in the hardware recorded behavior of these “flyonauts”. At different points in time, some of the flies were frozen and returned to Earth to study their gene expression.

…More in-depth analysis on the ground immediately post-flight revealed neurological changes in flies exposed to microgravity. As the flies acclimated to being back on Earth after their journey, the flies that experienced artificial gravity in space aged differently. They faced similar but less severe challenges to the flies that were in microgravity.

You can read the paper here.

To some extent, this study tells us nothing. We already know from a half century of research that zero gravity causes negative physical changes in both fruit flies and humans. What we really need to know is the lowest level of artificial gravity that would be beneficial. It is much easier to engine a spacecraft to produce 0.1g of artificial gravity than 1g. Even 0.5g would ease the engineering problem. The problem is that we do not yet know the right number.

It is a shame the scientists didn’t subject some flies to 0.5g, just to find out if that level of artificial gravity worked to provide benefits.