Worm Breeder's Gazette 16(1): 59 (October 1, 1999)

These abstracts should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.

Philadelphia's Northeast High School Worm Project experiment on the space shuttle Discovery

Andrew Adams

Northeast High School, Philadelphia, PA 19111

We recently had a chance to do something only a handful of people have ever done: send an experiment up into space. We sent up an 'experimental' group of dauer larvae on the space shuttle Discovery's ten-day mission. ITA of Exton, PA, granted us a very small space on the shuttle. So we decided on the relatively small C. elegans. We figured since John Glenn was going up into space to see the effects on him, we'd do a similar study. We wanted to see if the conditions of space had any effect on the C. elegans normal 18-24 day life span. With every science experiment there is a control group and an experimental group. The control group of about 1000 worms stayed in Philadelphia at Northeast High School the other 1000 worms were blasted off into orbit October 29, 1998.

The worms were in a dilute saline solution without food, and the volume of saline solution was 0.5ml. The test tubes with the worms in them were sealed and the experimental tube was turned over to ITA scientists. ITA scientists transferred the solution of worms to a compartment contained within their equipment which was then placed on the shuttle Discovery. Because the worms were contained in liquid, they weren't allowed to be exposed to the air inside the shuttle, or else the liquid would float free in the weightlessness of orbit. Instead the compartment was sealed exactly like the control tube. We kept both experiments under the same conditions except, of course the one variable, the experience of orbiting the Earth.

We examined the control tube the day before Discovery's landing, November 6, 1998. We observed that about 50% of larvae were still alive. The other worms apparently died of asphyxiation. Even though this discovery was disheartening, it seemed remarkably good considering the length of time they had been without fresh oxygen. Five days later the experimental group of worms that were stressed by space travel came back to Philadelphia November 11, 1998. We opened both the control and experimental tubes and examined the worms in the microscope. Viable worms in the control group was then estimated to be 2%, and in the experimental group there were no detectable living worms.

Because there is only a small difference between the number of viable worms in the two groups, we are unable to draw a conclusion about whether space travel affected the health of the worms. However, we can definitely learn some things. We feel that if we have gotten the worms back earlier than we did we could have had a conclusion to this experiment. The conditions for the experiment might have been ideal if the space flight had been shorter or we were able to get the worms back sooner. That couldn't be helped by us because NASA has rules. If we had an open petri dish of dauer larvae in agar maybe the outcome of this experiment would have been different. But again space in the shuttle is very limited unless you are very rich!

The students from Norhteast High School who participated in the project are: Kimberly Tazioly, Joseph Torres, Mujtaba Talebi, Thomas Collins, Andrew Adams, Max Cherepaha, Biana Tsepenyuk, Leonid Cherkassky, and science teacher Dr. Richard Black.

More information is available at http://www.worldlynx.net/friar/