Space Biology

Space Biology

Projects on microbial, animal and human sciences to study the viability of life on Mars

Circadian rhythms in a Mars analog mission: a telemetric approach

by Carla Conejo

Existing literature provides evidence of significant sleep loss and disruption of circadian rhythms in astronauts, due to extended duty days, irregular work schedules, high workload, and other environmental factors, plus the fact that a Sol (a solar day on Mars) is slightly longer than an Earth day (approximately 24 hours and 37 minutes long). Both in space and in simulated conditions, sleep times and performance can be compromised triggering serious consequences on the effectiveness, health, and safety of astronaut crews, thus increasing the chances of an accident or incident. Therefore, successful adaptation to such missions will depend on being able to anticipate such alterations and develop countermeasures to manage them. The goal of this project is to investigate the circadian profile of sleep-wake and activity-rest cycles of the Hypatia I crew, using an actigraphy wearable device (Fitbit sense 2, granted by Google). The collection of data will contribute to update the state of the art concerning neurophysiological disruptions during female-led space operations, since all previous experiments have been performed in male-dominant crews. This project counts with the collaboration of the Sleep Unit of the Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol, who will complement the study with tests to further investigate the human limitations of space travel. Additionally, two other groups are also orbiting this research line on human factors to assess the levels of stress, recovery, cohesion and self-regulation strategies of the crew (in collaboration with the Relational Dynamics and Identity Processes Group at the University of Burgundy), and to visualize interactions between team members and map the crew’s social structure (in collaboration with Sociomapping).

Aquaculture on Mars: exploring hostile environments for food productivity

by Laia Ribas

On Mars, auto-sustainability is at the core of living in a hostile environment where enviromental factors differ from those on Earth. In particular, food resources are important factors towards providing enough food for human consumption on Mars. The main goal of this project is to study how gravity might affect food production, in particular, aquaculture. In this project, zebrafish (Danio rerio), a popular fish model, will be used to study the effects of gravity during the early stages of development. Through DNA sequencing strategies, the epigenetic marks in the genome will be studied. Present data might help to better design the Life Support System required on Mars.

Martian bottle: generate drinking water and light from the solar energy

by Laia Ribas and Helena Arias

Water is a scarce and precious resource on Mars, therefore recycling water is the base of auto-sustainability. Thanks to a bottle cap (Light Pills) designed by one of the crew members of Hypatia I, Helena Arias, we will try to generate potable water from fish tanks and generate of light, both very useful for living in remote places such as Mars.

Cellular intelligence on Martian surface

by Cesca Cufí-Prat

Physarum polycephalum (here after physarum), commonly known as “blob”, is an example of plasmodial myxomycetes (commonly named plasmodial slime molds) that consists of a multinucleate single cell amoeba like organism. Its size is commonly of a few centimeters of diameter, and it can move within speeds of few centimeters per hour. This curious creature shows rare learning capabilities for a single celled organism. During its plasmodial state, the physarum explores its surroundings in search of food. It is capable of memorizing its previous path and of finding the optimum one towards the food sources. Slime molds are not only surprising for its learning capabilities but for being extremely resistant: in the lack of food supplies or adverse environmental conditions, they produce spores that are highly resistant to harsh environment and can stay dormant for decades waiting for the proper conditions to germinate.

Physarum has long been used as a model system for study of cell cycle, differentiation and other cell biological topics. Its life cycle state and behavior being easily observable at naked eye makes physarum a good candidate to study how cells respond to the environment. Mars is about 1.4 times further from the Sun than the Earth is. For this reason, the radiant power of the Sun on the martian surface is 50% the one on Earth surface. Moreover, lacking a thick atmosphere containing in H2O and O3 the Martian surface is highly exposed to UV and higher influenced by IR radiation than the Earth surface. Furthermore,  Mars does  not have a global magnetic filed to deflect high energetic particles. Thus, Mars surface is highly exposed to X and gamma rays.

Physarum has shown to be very sensible to light. It can slow down the process of exploration of the plasmodium and trigger the production of spores. This research aims at studying the influence of UV, infrared radiation and gravity on the exploration behavior and sporulation triggering of physarum. If physarum was exposed to radiation similar to that on Mars, how these life processes will be affected? Will this research give us some clues on how life on Mars can be developed? Will it further give us some clues about life development on Earth before atmosphere formation?

Seeds for the crew

by Laia Ribas

In her role of Greenhub officer, Laia Ribas was in charge of the greenhouse of the Hypatia I mission. This required performing daily tasks such as watering three times, controlling the temperature and the plants grown for future crews. Laia Ribas obtained soybean and lentil sprouts to provide fresh food for the Hypatia I crew and some fresh vegetables (cucumber, cherry tomatoes, salad sprouts and aromatic plants).

Life on earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning… Beneath our superficial differences we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings. Life did not take over the world by combat, but by networking.

Lynn Margulis, the biologist who articulated the endosymbiotic theory