Studying yeast DNA in space could help protect astronauts from space radiation

(ORDO NEWS) — Nuclear fusion reactions in the Sun are the source of the heat and light we receive on Earth.

These reactions release huge amounts of cosmic radiation, including x-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles, which can be harmful to any living organism.

Life on Earth is protected from harmful radiation, but during space travel the situation is different.

To find out what happens in a cell during space travel, scientists are sending baker’s yeast to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission.

Cosmic radiation can damage cellular DNA, greatly increasing a person’s risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders and fatal diseases such as cancer.

Astronauts are also exposed to microgravity, which can also dramatically change the physiology of cells.

Scientists are using the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to study how the space environment can damage DNA. The collection of yeast cells will travel to the moon and back on the Orion spacecraft.

This collection contains about 6000 yeast strains. One gene has been removed from each strain. When exposed to the environment in space, these strains will begin to fall behind if the deletion of a particular gene affects cell growth and replication.

When the mission is complete, scientists will be able to count each strain to identify the genes and gene pathways needed to survive the damage caused by space radiation.

Yeast has long served as a “model organism” in studies of DNA damage. Despite the differences in genetic complexity between yeast and humans, the functions of most of the genes involved in DNA replication and the response to DNA damage remain so similar that much information can be gleaned about the response of human cells to DNA damage by studying yeast.

In yeast research, it is possible to automate the entire process of feeding cells and stopping their growth with a shoebox-sized electronic device, while culturing mammalian cells requires more space and much more sophisticated equipment.

Such research is needed to understand how astronauts’ bodies can cope with long-duration spaceflight and to develop effective countermeasures.

Once scientists identify the genes that play a key role in surviving space radiation and microgravity, they can look for drugs or treatments that could help increase the resistance of cells to such stresses.

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