The Nerd Side Of Life

Squids in Space May Improve NASA Astronaut Health

Squids- the closest thing we’ll get to krakens unless we find an actual kraken. Of all the creatures that humanity could send into space, you probably wouldn’t anticipate squids being one of them. Thanks to researcher Dr. Jamie Foster and a group of courageous baby squids from the University of Hawaii, we just may be able to discover ways to keep astronauts healthier while they’re in zero gravity environments.

Photo by Narrissa Spies used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Like all creatures on Earth, human bodies have evolved to function in Earth’s gravity. The effects of taking a person out of Earth’s gravity is of great interest to NASA as the agency has a vested interest in making sure its astronauts continue to be healthy. We already know some of the effects which include reduced muscle mass, increased blood flow to the head, increased levels of dehydration, and a shift in hand-eye coordination. Another lesser known or understood change though is how the body’s relation with microbes changes.

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This is where Dr. Foster and her research comes into play. According to her and her former teacher, Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai, the immune system doesn’t function quite as well in zero gravity as it does in normal gravity. As Dr. Foster states:

“There are aspects of the immune system that just don’t work properly under long-duration spaceflights. If humans want to spend time on the moon or Mars, we have to solve health problems to get them there safely.”

So where do the squid fit into this? Well, some species of squid, like many other deep-sea creatures, have a degree of bioluminescence. One of these species is the Hawaiian bobtail squid. This particular species is bioluminescent because of a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. Dr. Foster’s research showed that a zero gravity environment affected this relationship between the squid and bacteria. So the question is, can studying a simpler organism in zero gravity, like a baby squid, that heavily relies on microbial interactions, help us understand the effects of zero gravity on microbial interactions in humans?

And so, a number of squid from the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory were brought along on a resupply drop to the International Space Station until their return trip in July. Unless some kind of space radiation causes the squid to mutate into some Cthulhu like eldritch horrors, the experiment really could prove useful towards helping improve astronaut health.

Or we’ll be overrun by mutant squid. And I for one welcome our new squid overlords…

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