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Zebrafish, induced torpor and spaceflight

Context:

Researchers showed that zebrafish has demonstrated how induced hibernation (torpor) may protect humans from the elements of space, especially radiation, during space flight.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Important developments in Space technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Zebrafish
  2. Highlights of the study

Zebrafish

  • Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a small (2-3 cm long) freshwater fish found in the tropical and subtropical regions.
  • The fish is native to South Asia’s Indo-Gangetic plains, where they are mostly found in the paddy fields and even in stagnant water and streams.
  • They are classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.
  • They have been used to study vertebrate development, evolution, genetics, and disease due to its adequate regeneration capacity of almost all its organs, including the brain, heart, eye, spinal cord.
  • Zebrafish have a similar genetic structure (around 70%) to humans.
  • As a vertebrate, the zebrafish has the same major organs and tissues as humans. Their muscle, blood, kidney and eyes share many features with human systems.

Highlights of the study

  • Recent technological advancements might have made space travel more accessible. However, long-term space travel is incredibly detrimental to human health.
  • The study could help in understanding how a form of hibernation, known as induced torpor (a state of reduced metabolic activity) may provide radio-protective effects.
  • The researchers exposed zebrafish to radiation like what would be experienced on a six-month journey to Mars. They observed signs of oxidative stress (imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals), DNA damage, stress hormone signaling and changes to the cell-division cycle.
  • The researchers then induced torpor in a second group of zebrafish which were then exposed to the same dose of radiation. The results showed that torpor lowered the metabolic rate within the zebrafish and created a radioprotective effect, protecting against the harmful effects of radiation.

What is Torpor and why is this study significant?

  • Torpor, a form of hibernation, is a brief spell of suspended animation. It usually lasts less than a day. When in torpor, an animal’s metabolism, heartbeat, breathing, and body temperature are greatly reduced.
  • Hibernation is a physiological condition found in many species. It 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.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

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