Along the ride are 5,000 tardigrades, also known as water bears, and 128 baby glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid.
Both will be involved in experiments aboard the space station, which include assessing how water bears tolerate the space environment. The researchers also want to know whether the lack of gravity affects the symbiotic relationship between squid and beneficial microbes.
Hundreds of scientific experiments are conducted daily aboard the space station; It is an orbiting laboratory, after all. Astronauts oversee these experiments and report their observations to scientists on Earth. The research helps us gain a better understanding of life in zero gravity, as well as discover benefits that can be applied to Earth.
The astronauts are also getting some fresh fruits and vegetables in their cargo delivery, including gala apples, navel oranges, cherry tomatoes, onions, lemons, mini peppers and avocados.
The cargo vehicle is also loaded with new solar panels, which will increase the amount of energy available to the space station. The compact panels were used to make the ISS Roll-Out Solar Array, or iROSA, which flutters like a long rug. The array will be installed outside the space station by astronauts during two spacewalks in June.
water bear and celestial umami
“Tardigrades are a group of microscopic animals that are renowned for their ability to survive many extreme stresses,” said Thomas Boothby, assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming and principal investigator of the Cell Science-04 tardigrade experiment. A news conference last week.
“Some of the things that tardigrades can survive include drying up, freezing, and heating past the boiling point of water. They can survive thousands of times more radiation than we can and they can go on for days or weeks. Oxygen No.”
“They have been shown to survive and reproduce during spaceflight, and can even survive prolonged exposure to the vacuum of outer space,” Boothby said.
Boothby’s experiment is designed to look at how tardigrades adapt to life in low-Earth orbit, which could lead to a greater understanding of the stresses faced by humans in space.
“Ultimately this information will give us insight into how one of the toughest organisms on Earth is able to survive the rigors of spacecraft,” he said. “And it is our hope that these insights will provide avenues for developing countermeasures or treatments that will help protect astronauts during prolonged space missions.”
The UMAMI experiment stands for Understanding Microgravity on Animal-Microbe Interactions, and Professor Jamie Foster in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida is its principal investigator. He is eager to see how healthy beneficial microbes communicate with animal tissue in space.
“Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain healthy digestive and immune systems,” Foster said. “We don’t fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions. The Umami experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important issues in animal health.”
The bobtail squid, which is only about 3 millimeters (0.12 in) long, serves as a perfect model to study it for two reasons. Inside the body of these squid is a specialized light organ that can be colonized by a species of luminescent bacteria. The squid can then use that bacterium to glow in the dark. Foster said this symbiotic relationship is between a species of bacteria and a type of host tissue, so it’s easy for researchers to follow how the process unfolds.
Squid also has an immune system that is similar to the type in humans. Researchers will be able to learn whether the spacecraft alters the mutually beneficial relationship between animals and their microbes.
“As astronauts explore space, they are taking with them a company of different microbial species,” Foster said. “And it’s really important to understand what those microbes are collectively called the microbiome, the changes in the space environment and how those relationships are established.”