Skip to main content
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

San Diego Researcher Will Send Flies Into Space For Science

May 24, 2017 1:53 p.m.

San Diego Researcher Will Send Flies Into Space For Science


Karen Ocorr, senior communications manager, SDG&E

Related Story: San Diego Researcher Will Send Flies Into Space For Science


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

From historical artifacts to pop-culture objects NASA has sent some strange things to space and now it is and implies. Tech reporter David Wagner spoke with San Diego researcher Karen Oka in her lab at the medical discovery Institute about her experiment.
I use fruit flies as a model system and my main goal of my research is to understand the cellular molecular genetic underpinnings of heart disease. I want to find out what goes on when your heart goes bad. I want to be able to take that information I get from fruit flies and turn that into targets or come up with novel ways and therapies to collect heart disease which is still the number one killer of people in the Western world.
What is the purpose of this experiment.
Maybe walk us through what you will be looking at in these flies. As they spend their lives in this very different environment.
That have not been that many astronauts yet has a lot of time in microgravity. Even though they have data from them we don't really understand what microgravity can do to our bodies that were never meant to be in that kind of an environment. The more that people venture out into space which is in our future the more we will need that kind of information. NASA is turning the ISS over to private enterprise in the near future and there is talk about mining asteroids and building colonies on the moon. We would really like to know what we are getting ourselves into if we start to spend a lot of time. Our goal is to use the fruit fly as a way to look at the effects on the heart. We have developed methods that allow us to very precisely analyze heart function in the for five and related to the similar genes and proteins that are found in human heart and try to get an idea of what is happening. Because we can send a whole lot of flies get a whole lot of flies back that allows us to get really reproducible data. Is a lot of data that we cannot get from studying a few astronauts. We can get some pretty important clues by looking at these flies and they do not take up much space and that is a premium on the ISS. So this actually turned out to be a good model system there is actually another reason and that is that the mouse or rat which has often been used to study heart disease and function as a model system it lacks some of the very important proteins that are involved in her function in humans. Because their hearts be 10 times faster than ours. They function a little bit differently. The fly heart on the other hand has is proteins that are in our hearts.
Some important ways they are. Some of the ways is to reproduce and then stated that Aspen. Why would he be curious about that.
This is something that a lot of scientists are interested in right now it's a field called epigenetic's and it involves the transmission of traits that were required in your lifetime to your offspring so for example during the Irish potato famine people who were starved essentially when they have children it turns out that there is very much increased incidence of diabetes and these children of starvation victims. This is something that was transmitted to them from their parents. Something changed in their DNA that allowed for this trait to be transmitted.
We wonder if this might be the case people that are exposed to microgravity. For sure this will be of interest to female astronaut but it could also be this case that was transmitted. We want to know if this is a possibility.
It sounds like what you are getting on his just beyond the basic curiosity of what happens to flies when you put them through space. What sorts of things can we learn these experiments that might affect our future as humans and our curiosity about space
That's a great question. Essentially what we are trying to do is learn about very fundamental aspects of heart function.
This is another way to get a different perspective on how these cells work. There are certainly very practical applications the one is when you think about what happens when people are forced to stay in bed for extended periods of time. There is much less stress if you will if they are not standing. So you have a reduction in blood pressure. These are things that happen in microgravity as well. Even though this is something that at least on its face is supposed to be applied to astronaut heart function ultimately. I think what we learn from us will have applications to people who are in an extended bed rest sorts of regime. That is one thing we can learn that will impact everyone on the planet at some point
As we get older I will spend some time and we are going to be walking around.
That is Karen Oka speaking with KPBS science and tech reporter David Wagner. The flies are expected to blast off on SB six rocket on June 1.