Evaluation of the fluids mixing enclosure system for life science experiments during a commercial Caenorhabditis elegans spaceflight experiment
Warren, Paul, et al. (2013). "Evaluation of the fluids mixing enclosure system for life science experiments during a commercial Caenorhabditis elegans spaceflight experiment." Advances in Space Research 51 12: 2241-2250
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a United States national science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiative that aims to increase student interest in science by offering opportunities to perform spaceflight experiments. The experiment detailed here was selected and flown aboard the third SSEP mission and the first SSEP mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Caenorhabditis elegans is a small, transparent, self-fertilizing hermaphroditic roundworm that is commonly used in biological experiments both on Earth and in Low Earth Orbit. Past experiments have found decreased expression of mRNA for several genes whose expression can be controlled by the FOXO transcription factor DAF-16. We flew a daf-16 mutant and control worms to determine if the effects of spaceflight on C. elegans are mediated by DAF-16. The experiment used a Type Two Fluids Mixing Enclosure (FME), developed by Nanoracks LLC, and was delivered to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Dragon and returned aboard the Russian Soyuz. The short time interval between experiment selection and the flight rendered preflight experiment verification tests impossible. In addition, published research regarding the viability of the FME in life science experiments was not available. The experiment was therefore structured in such a way as to gather the needed data. Here we report that C. elegans can survive relatively short storage and activation in the FME but cannot produce viable populations for post-flight analysis on extended missions. The FME appears to support short-duration life science experiments, potentially on supply or crew exchange missions, but not on longer ISS expeditions. Additionally, the flown FME was not properly activated, reportedly due to a flaw in training procedures. We suggest that a modified transparent FME could prevent similar failures in future flight experiments.