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Red wine's resveratrol could help Mars explorers stay strong

Researchers identify red wine’s resveratrol can keep Mars explorers strong

According to NASA, it would take 9 months to reach Mars from Earth. With the space race moving ahead, researchers from Harvard University are finding answers to how to maintain the body strength on reaching Mars. They have found that resveratrol preserves the muscle mass and strength in the bodies of rats when they are exposed to the simulation of Mars gravity. The study has been published in the journal, Frontiers in Physiology

In the space, being unchallenged by gravity the muscles and bones of the body weaken. The weight bearing muscles such as soleus muscle in calf are most badly affected. Dr Marie Mortreux, lead author of the study said that the human soleus muscle shrinks by a third after only 3 weeks in space. This is followed by loss of slow-twitch muscle fibres which are essential for endurance. For safe operation of astronauts in Mars where the gravity is only 40% of that of Earth, mitigating strategies are needed to avoid muscle deconditioning.

Dr Mortreux added that diet is the key as astronauts on Mars would not have access to exercise machines which are present in ISS. Resveratrol has been found as a suitable candidate which is mainly found in grape skin and blueberries. It helped in preserving the bone and muscle mass in rats during conditions such as complete unloading, similar to microgravity during spaceflight. Thus scientists view that a moderate daily dose would help to prevent muscle deconditioning in Mars gravity. 

For replicating Mars gravity, scientists used a method which was developed in mice by Mary Bouxsein, where rats were fitted with a full-body harness and suspended from their cage ceiling by a chain. Thus, 24 male rats were exposed to normal loading (Earth) or 40% loading (Mars) for 14 days. In each group, half received resveratrol (150 mg/kg/day) in water; the others got just the water. Otherwise, they fed freely from the same chow.

Circumference of calf and front and rear paw grip force were measured every week, and after 14 days, the calf muscles were analysed.

As it was expected, the Mars condition led to the weakening of the rat’s grip and their calf circumference shrank along with muscle weight and slow-twitch fibre content. However, resveratrol rescued the front and rear paw grip almost entirely in the Mars rats similar to the level of Earth rats who were non-supplemented. It also protected the muscle mass entirely and decreased the loss of slow-twitch muscle fibres. However, it could not rescue the soleus and cross-sectional area of gastrocnemius fibres or calm circumference. It did not affect total body weight. 

Dr Mortreux said that resveratrol treatment increases the muscle growth in diabetic or unloaded animals with an increase in insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in muscle fibres. This is relevant for astronauts who develop reduced insulin sensitivity in spaceflights. Anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol would also conserve the muscle and bone. Anti-oxidants such as dried plums are used to test this. It is also essential to confirm if resveratrol develops any harmful interactions with the drugs which are administered to the astronauts in spaceflights. Studies are also needed to find out the effects of different doses of resveratrol in males and females. 

Journal Reference: Frontiers in Physiology

christina koch nick hague

Female NASA astronaut to make new record by spending extended time in spaceflight

NASA announced that astronaut Christina Koch will break a space record of the longest continuous spaceflight by a woman which is currently held by astronaut Peggy Whitson. As of now, she holds the record with 288 days but Koch who went to the space with Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin will be staying in the orbit for 328 days. She will return back to Earth in the month of February 2020. Though she will not be breaking the record set by astronaut Scot Kelly of the longest continuous spaceflight at 340 days.

Doctors are quite excited by this announcement as they will be able to learn a lot from it. During her time in space, Koch will monitor the changes taking place in body. It will provide researchers with the much needed valuable data of dangers of spaceflight and how well can human bodies cope with it. This data has been quite difficult to obtain as space flights usually last for six and a half months, but only few astronauts have been able to stay more than 200 days in one spaceflight. This situation presents a problem to NASA, as they aspire to send human beings to Mars within a decade, which is spaceflight lasting for six to eight months in each direction. Koch’s journey in the orbit of Earth will be able to inform us of the hardships of such long spaceflights and how differently male and female bodies react to the changes.

It is significant to note that till date, only three NASA astronauts have been able to remain in space for a continuous 200 days. They are Scott Kelly who holds the record at 340 days, Peggy Whitson, 289 days and Michael Lopez-Alegria at 215 days. It is interesting to note that Soviet Union and Russia combined have sent a dozen men on spaceflights for more than 200 days.

About 12% of the astronauts on spaceflights have been women, hence this mission will provide a more profound understanding of how gender differences affect the response of the body. A coincidence is that this updated flight schedule was announced just a week after the Twin Study was published. This revealed how cells of genetically identical individuals differed in responses, when one brother was in spaceflight and the other on Earth.

Koch will be taking part in several projects such as VECTION for studying how the vestibular system processes the movements of individuals in gravity. Besides this, there will also be experiments checking the stiffness of muscles, elasticity, ability of the brain in controlling blood flow.

Scientists want large sample size of astronauts for spaceflight studies, but since it is not possible they want to utilize the data from every individual who makes long stays.

Mark and Scott Kelly at the Johnson Space Center

NASA’s Twin Study reports changes in human body during spaceflight

Spending a year on the space station has a great impact on the human body but the normal body functions get restored after returning to Earth. Human beings were not evolved to be able to float in microgravity or to survive under the influence of radiation levels in space.

NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly spent almost an year on International Space Station in a mission launched in 2015. His body was subjected to incredible stress, accumulation of fluids in upper body and head led to the swelling of these parts, his genes were activated in unusual ways and his immune system went to overdrive compared to his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly. Both the brothers have been in space, but Mark remained on Earth during Scott’s mission. As time passed, Scott experienced reduced body mass, genome instability, major swelling in his blood vessels, shifts in metabolism and changes in his microbiome and also a increase in the length of telomeres.

A group of ten teams were working on NASA‘s Twin Study which included 84 researchers from 12 universities. They followed the brother duo, during and after the flight got over and tracked the change in the bodies of the brothers over the entire course of the study. Though the scope of the research was limited, this data will be very valuable when scientists plan to send astronauts on long duration spaceflights.

Because of the small sample size, there was no interest in the Twins’ Study for many years after both of them got selected as astronauts in 1996. But after Scott Kelly’s record breaking stay in space station, the discussion gathered steam and a proper study was undertaken whose full report will be soon published. Mike Snyder, the head of genetics at Stanford University and a co-author of the Twins’ Study said that this will be the first in-depth study of the people in space at a biochemical level.

A lot of interesting changes have been noticed in the twins’ genes. There are no changes in the DNA, but there have been changes in the genes which are activated to synthesize proteins. Researchers did not compare the genes of the brothers directly but rather compared the changes in the genes’ expression. As soon as Scott went into space, there was a huge shift in the over 1000 genes which change dynamically. This shows the response of the body to a completely different environment.

The most curious finding was that of the lengthening of telomeres. Telomeres are the chromosome ends which shorten as we get older. Although the telomeres returned to the same average length on his return to Earth.

The integrated report from the Twins Study researchers was released in the Science journal.

NASA Astronaut Kevin Ford trains with Ultrasound

Dormant viruses activate in astronauts during spaceflight

In recent years we have been doing a variety of research in space. This is possible only with the help of astronauts going to space and finding out new discoveries. In order to become an astronaut, it is mandatory to go through various tests and also be physically and mentally fit.

Astronauts do possess threat from the viruses already present in their bodies.

In our bodies, there are various viruses which are good or bad for our health. Sometimes even the good viruses in excess can harm our body. The astronauts need to take care of the viruses and they have to see that the virus doesn’t affect their health in the space and also during the spaceflight.

A research published by NASA in the Frontiers in Microbiology states that a virus called the Herpes Virus reactivates in more than half of the crew in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Mission.

It is not that herpes virus comes into our body from somewhere, it is already present in our body and because it increases in number it leads to an infection called herpes. It is an infection which affects the mouth region and the external genitalia, anal region, mucosal surfaces and skin in other parts of the body. The symptoms include blisters, ulcers, pain when urinatingcold sores and vaginal discharge. Although there is no cure for herpes, it can be treated using medications and home remedies.

Herpes Infection

Herpes Infection (Credit: BruceBlaus/ Wikipedia)

If this virus increases during the spaceflight it may lead to significant health risk in the mission.

Dr. Satish K. Mehta of KBR Wyle at the Johnson Space Center mentions that the astronauts are weeks and sometimes months away on a research mission and also they are under extreme G forces during take-off and re-entry. Along with this, there are various stresses like an altered sleep cycle and also social separation.

In order to study the various effect on the astronauts’ body, Dr. Mehta and his colleagues studied the saliva, blood and urine samples collected from astronauts before, during and after spaceflight. It was observed that during the spaceflight there is an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline which are known to suppress the immune system. It is also found out that the astronauts’ immune system cells particularly those that suppresses and eliminates viruses become less effective during spaceflight and sometimes for up to 60 days after.

Dr. Mehta reports that to date, 47 out of 89 (53%) astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 (61%) on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples. These frequencies—as well as the quantity—of viral shedding are markedly higher than in samples from before or after a flight, or from matched healthy controls.

Dr. Mehta added that only six astronauts developed any symptoms due to viral reactivation. All were minor.

The magnitude, frequency and duration of viral shedding also increase with the length of spaceflight. As we prepare for various missions beyond the Moon and Mars, there is a risk that the herpes virus could reactivate and their contacts could become more crucial.  The only way in order to control this virus is to provide vaccinations to the astronauts.

Published Researchhttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00016/full