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Mighty Mice Make Mighty Humans?

November 20, 2020

Drum roll, please … presenting … Mighty Mice! Sounds like the beginning of a clever animated movie, but we’re actually sharing a story about a group of mice who traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of a science experiment. But before we share the story, ever wondered what astronauts work on while they’re stationed on the ISS? From maintaining and fixing the actual space station to conducting experiments like whether or not plants can grow in space (turns out they can!), astronauts are accomplishing a lot in space. Sometimes, astronauts themselves are even part of the experiment. What? Shocking, we know! But it’s true! Now, we’re not talking about Frankenstein-type experiments (He’s alive! He’s alive!), but more long-term studies of how the body reacts and responds to being in outer space for prolonged periods of time.

NASA Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly
Photo Courtesy of Robert Markowitz – NASA – Johnso

Take NASA astronauts and twins Mark and Scott Kelly, for example. The Kelly brothers were a part of a twin study comparing what changes a person goes through physically, mentally, and molecularly when in space. How was this study conducted? Like all good science experiments, there’s a control group (Mark, in this case, who stayed on Earth) and an experimental group (or Scott, who lived in outer space for nearly a year). When Scott returned, the two brothers were compared. Since they’re twins and their genetic makeup is the same, scientists could note the differences in other areas, such as muscle and bone density. It turns out that people lose bone and muscle density when they’re in outer space. Why? One simple word: gravity. Because there’s no gravity weighing people down in space, astronauts don’t need to use their bones and muscles to fight the pull of gravity like they would while walking or running on Earth. That’s why exercise is a regular part of an astronaut’s routine when they’re stationed on the ISS. Got all that? Now, onto our story about mice!

via Pixabay

Recently, a study was conducted that involved a group of mice who traveled to space. Forty female mice were divided into groups of eight to test a hypothesis. If some mice were injected with a myostatin inhibitor, which blocks the myostatin protein from sending signals to control muscle mass and bone density (the protein’s primary job), would these mice retain or even gain more muscle mass when they were returned to Earth? The conclusion is yes. Mice who were given a myostatin inhibitor were able to retain or even gain more muscle mass when they came back to Earth approximately thirty days later. What does this mean? The experiment was conducted to see how astronauts could retain muscle mass during prolonged periods of time in space. And what’s more, this discovery could help treat those suffering from muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis, two illnesses that result in the loss of muscle mass and bone density. Pretty awesome, right? So, mighty mice equals mighty humans? Well, hold it right there. There’s a lot more to learn about these inhibitors, and the purpose of this experiment isn’t to create super humans like Superman or Wonder Woman, but to help those who are suffering from various health conditions. Now that’s something we can definitely give a mighty fist bump to. *Fist Bump*