NASA finds the common fruit flyDrosophila melanogasterquite an attractive "model," but not in the way you might think. This tiny insect is a biomedical research model that can reveal the basis for health and disease in many animals, including humans, because we share the basic biochemical machinery of life. NASA scientists are studying fruit flies to understand the molecular, genetic, cellular and physiological responses of whole organisms to spaceflight.
On Earth and in space, these models are easier to study than humans. Thousands of fruit flies take up little room. Multiple generations hatch within days, allowing for the study of diseases that would take decades to develop in humans. Because scientists can study many genetically identical Drosophila at once, they can design tests that have a high degree of statistical power, enhancing experimental sensitivity.
Every decade, NASA engages the National Research Council in Washington for a consensus opinion on which scientific questions are highest-priority and what research is needed to answer them. New facilities for the study of Drosophila that will be installed aboard the International Space Station in 2014 are part of NASA's response to the National Research Council's 2011 call for "a deeper understanding of the mechanistic role of gravity in the regulation of biological systems," and specifically for multi-generational studies of fruit flies in space.
The Fruit Fly Lab is being developed by a team of scientists and engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., based upon the prior generation system used aboard the space shuttle. Modified cassettes will serve as fly habitats for the new lab. Aboard the station, astronauts will use a food changeout platform to deliver in-flight "meal service" while preventing flies from escaping.
Although fruit fly studies have taken place in space previously, the Fruit Fly Lab brings advanced capabilities to sc
|Contact: Laura Niles|
NASA/Johnson Space Center