Fish Torpor Could Be The Secret To Space Travel
Research into how fish cope with cold dark conditions could unlock human travel to deep space.
Scientists have been struggling with the problems caused by prolonged space travel on the human body.
Astronauts suffer from loss of body mass and muscle wasting, and it is feared that high levels of radiation in space could damage our hearts and cause arteries to narrow and harden.
NASA researchers started looking at how fish physiology changes when they go into a state known as torpor – a condition similar to sleep and hibernation in other animals. Fish metabolisms can slow down when temperatures drop under 5ºC.
It was hoped that such a metabolic change could make space travel to Mars a viable proposition if induced in humans.
A team of scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast have had a major breakthrough when they discovered that not only does torpor protect fish from the impact of the cold and help them survive with no food, it also protected zebrafish from the effects of radiation.
‘NASA plans to return to the Moon and onward to Mars in the coming years,’ said Professor Gary Hardiman, a researcher from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s and the senior author of a study published in the journal MDPI Cells.
‘Recent technological advancements have made space travel more accessible; however, long-term space travel is incredibly detrimental to human health’.
Hardiman and his team exposed the zebrafish in a state of torpor to the same dose of radiation an astronaut would experience travelling to Mars.
‘Our results reveal that while in induced torpor, the zebrafish showed that a reduction in metabolism and oxygen concentration in cells promotes less oxidative stress and greater resistance to radiation," said Thomas Cahill, from Queen’s University and co-author of the research.
‘These insights into how a reduction in metabolic rate can offer protection from radiation exposure and could help humans achieve a similar kind of hibernation, counter measuring the damage they currently face during spaceflight.’