Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

University sends worms into space

International Space Centre
The study could help explain why astronauts lose muscle density

Worms from the University of Nottingham will check in for a flight to the International Space Station.

The research project is designed to investigate the effects of zero gravity on the body's muscle development and its physiology.

The worms Caenorhabditis elegans will spend about two weeks on the space station in October.

Worms suffer from muscle atrophy or muscle loss under many of the same conditions as humans.

Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk from the Institute of Clinical Research in Derby studies the signals which control muscle protein degradation.

He said: "Worms are an excellent model to study the genetic basis of muscle atrophy. This flight should allow us to continue to uncover new ways muscle atrophy is controlled.

"Our current results suggest that our findings from this space flight mission may be of particular interest not only to astronauts but also to individuals who are bed-ridden, immobilized in casts, aged or who suffer from diabetes."

Dr Szewczyk wants to explain why astronauts can experience dramatic muscle degradation, with some losing up to 60% of their muscle density in a single mission.

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