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Vidal-Gadea Lab
Vidal-Gadea Lab
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Within twenty years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and several commercial enterprises (e.g. SpaceX, Lockheed Martin) intend to place human explorers on the Martian surface. Many call human expansion beyond planet Earth as inevitable. As we the endeavor to journey away from our home world, it becomes necessary to predict how prolonged exposure to the new environments humans will encounter might affect the biology of terrestrial organisms. On earth, life evolved under the continuous presence of our planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields. While these force fields vary significantly across the solar system, how they shaped evolution, or interact with living organisms has only recently begun to be understood. For example, numerous studies now document impairments in the neural, muscular, and skeletal tissues of astronauts or test animals in the microgravity of near earth orbit. Studies using nematodes in several space missions identified molecular correlates for these observations, identifying several genes displaying differential regulation in muscle and other tissues under microgravity conditions. ​​

This project will determine the long-term effects the altered gravitational and magnetic fields experienced during a trip and stay on Mars will have on terrestrial organisms
Our experimental setup combines clinostats and magnetic coil systems to model the altered gravitational and magnetic forces (respectively) experienced on earth, mars, and space. We are culturing the nematode C. elegans in these chambers over the multiple (~300) generations a mission to Mars would likely last (up to three years). The fast generational time of C. elegans (three days) permits the efficient assessment of transgenerational effects.

To test for cumulative effects, every generation we sample animals from each experimental condition and evaluate the modified gravity and magnetic field’s combined, and individual effects on them. 

Several undergraduate and high school students are carrying this research and already generated puzzling results (stay tuned for the first publication).