Fruit flies aboard space shuttle subjects of UCF, UC Davis study on immunity and space

Fruit flies aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery will help University of Central Florida and University of California, Davis, biologists learn more about how prolonged stays in space could affect human immune systems.

The flies will need little care during their 12-day stay aboard the shuttle, which is scheduled to launch Saturday, July 1, from Kennedy Space Center. Astronauts will only have to replace their food tray once.

When the flies return to earth, Laurence "Laurie" von Kalm, an associate professor of biology at UCF, will work with Deborah Kimbrell, a UC Davis associate research geneticist, to evaluate their responses to bacteria and fungi and compare them to the responses of flies that did not go into space.

"The primary question being asked is whether the immune system is compromised from prolonged space travel," von Kalm said. "Are they more susceptible to infection than the flies that don't travel into space?"

NASA provided Kimbrell with a grant to fund the research, and Kennedy Space Center is providing a lab where von Kalm, Kimbrell and their colleagues will test the flies for two weeks after the shuttle returns. Scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center, Rice University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are also part of the research team.

NASA's goal is to find out how extended stays in space, such as a trip to Mars, could affect the health of astronauts, von Kalm said.

Fruit flies can help NASA move closer to that goal because certain aspects of the genetic makeup of their immune systems and humans' are similar. Also, a 12-day stay in space qualifies as prolonged for fruit flies because they only live for about four to six weeks.

Kimbrell sought von Kalm's help because of his experience working with fruit flies and because of UCF's proximity to Cape Canaveral. Four of von Kalm's graduate students and a senior research assistant will join him at Cape Canaveral to conduct t

Contact: Chad Binette
University of Central Florida

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