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San Diego Researcher Will Send Flies Into Space For Science

Karen Ocorr dissects a fruit fly in her lab, May 19, 2017.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: Karen Ocorr dissects a fruit fly in her lab, May 19, 2017.

A San Diego researcher is sending flies into space for science.

Karen Ocorr studies fruit flies in her lab at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. And soon, a batch of her flies will be on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).

This will be her second experiment involving flies in space. Her goal is to understand how a low gravity environment can affect the fruit fly's heart.

A small box full of vials containing about 2,000 flies — some with normal heart-related genes and others with mutations known to affect heart health — will spend a month on the ISS.

After the flies return to Earth, Ocorr hopes to test their hearts and study their overall physical health. She also plans to let them reproduce so she can study their offspring and see if the stresses of space can somehow be passed down to subsequent generations.

Curiosity about basic biology is driving the research, but Ocorr said the findings could also turn out to be relevant for any astronaut embarking on a long-term trip to Mars.

"If there are effects that we can document from flies that spend most of their life in microgravity, then that gives us an idea of what things we need to worry about happening to humans," she said.

Reported by Nicholas Mcvicker

Ocorr will travel to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to help NASA prepare the experiment. If everything goes according to plan, the flies will blast off on a SpaceX rocket on June 1.

Ocorr said this is a unique opportunity. Resources, space and astronauts' time are limited on the ISS, and this will be the only fruit fly experiment included on this trip.

"If we know the cellular target that's being altered by microgravity, then we can design drugs to combat whatever that effect is. Or we can at least be aware of it and monitor it and hopefully prevent cardiac problems in future astronauts," she said.

San Diego Researcher Will Send Flies Into Space For Science

GUEST:

Karen Ocorr, senior communications manager, SDG&E

Transcript

Curiosity about basic fruit fly biology is driving the research, but a local scientist says the findings could also turn out to be relevant for any astronaut embarking on a long-term trip to Mars.

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