The stuff of science fiction for decades has been the thought of humans colonizing another world. NASA has been studying microscopic worms originally taken from a garbage dump on earth called Caenorhadbitis elegans or C elegans on the ISS since 2006. The worms were shot into space and studied on the ISS as a project to determine if humans could survive and reproduce on long space flights lasting many years to colonize other worlds.
The reason these worms are being used in this sort of study is that genetically they are very similar to humans. Scientists on the project note that the worms were able to reproduce and develop from egg to adult in space just as well as they do on earth. The worms have been on orbit for 12 generations now and were returned on one of the last space shuttle missions.
C elegans is a cost effective way to study the effects of deep space missions including the potential for radiation damage and musculoskeletal deterioration of the muscle from the lack of gravity. The worms were the first mutli-celled organisms to have its genetic structure completely mapped and apparently, many of the 20,000 genes a worm has serve the same functions as genes in humans. The scientists also note that 2,000 of those genes have a role in promoting muscle functional and that as much as 60% of those 2,000 genes have counterparts in humans that are obvious.
[via TG Daily]