New research led by Queen’s University Belfast has shown the zebrafish could help humans reach Mars by understanding how a form of hibernation known as induced torpor (a state of reduced metabolic activity) may provide radio-protective effects.
Hibernation is a physiological condition found in many species that protects them against harsh conditions, such as food scarcity and low environmental temperatures.
Replicating hibernation may therefore protect astronauts against the harsh conditions of space flight, which include challenges such as radiation exposure, bone and muscle wastage, advanced ageing and vascular problems. The researchers believe if astronauts hibernate on their journey, those difficulties may be solved.
To conduct their study, the researchers exposed zebrafish to radiation like what would be experienced on a six-month journey to Mars. The researchers found that this radiation caused signatures of oxidative stress, stress hormone signaling and halting of the cell cycle within the zebrafish.
The researchers then induced torpor in a second group of zebrafish, which were then exposed to the same dose of radiation, and analyzed their gene expression patterns to assess the protective effects during this induced state of physical or mental inactivity.
The results found that torpor lowered the metabolic rate within the zebrafish and created a radioprotective effect, protecting against the harmful effects of radiation.
The research has been published in the journal MDPI Cells.