Developmental Biology Introduction

Developmental biology research in space focuses on the influences of gravity and microgravity on reproduction, differentiation, growth, development, life span, aging, and subsequent generations of animals. Before humans can attempt missions for long-duration space exploration, they must thoroughly understand the effects of microgravity on developmental processes. The absence of gravity during development can also be used to elucidate the effects of gravity during normal development on Earth.

Even if humans do not yet need to reproduce in space, they will need to raise multiple generations of plants and animals to feed themselves in a closed-system environment for long-duration missions. A major question that has yet to be answered in an animal subject is whether or not an organism can undergo a complete life cycle in microgravity. Current research has focused on whether normal development depends on gravity exposure during critical time periods during development, whether such exposure results in irreversible changes in morphology and function in adulthood, and whether an organism can undergo a complete life cycle or several life cycles in microgravity.

Studies addressing various aspects of these questions are conducted on cells and whole organsims, including C. elegans, drosophila, fish, amphibia, avians, mice, rats, and humans.

To date, most of the research concerning the effects of space radiation on animal development has come from Russian studies, including those conducted on the Biocosmos missions. Results of studies conducted to date are summarized in this modle in the context of what is currently known about space developmental biology and what key questions remain to be answered in order for human exploration to proceed.

Teaching Goals:

Discipline Lead

Eran Schenker M.D.