Belgian Rotifers Fly Back to Space

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Healthy rotifers can reproduce in space without any problem. This has been shown by the experiment from UNamur and SCK CEN, exactly one year after having been sent into space. Next Saturday, the Belgian rotifers will leave again for the ISS. “We are going to test their resistance even more by damaging their DNA before departure", UNamur, SCK CEN and ULB explain. The partners will do so by irradiating them on earth.

Exactly one year ago, in December 2019, active rotifers were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Rotifers in Space (RISE) project. They stayed in orbit for two weeks, where they were exposed to the effects of space. After a successful flight, the scientists studied the animals for their reproduction and gene expression. Project coordinator Prof. Dr Karine Van Doninck (UNamur and ULB), explains: “Rotifers are microscopic animals (200 micrometres to 1 millimetre). They are one of the only animal species on earth that can survive dehydration and high doses of radiation. Some species, such as the Bdelloid Adineta vaga, reproduce asexually. The females clone themselves, as it were.”

Tentative results of the first mission into space have shown that weightlessness does not affect their fertility. They gave birth to offspring just like their colleagues on earth. By cloning themselves, they also copy the possible errors that occurred during DNA repair. “The analyses which should detect potential DNA errors in the offspring are still ongoing. We examine the molecules which have been created to be able to compare and verify whether the metabolism works the same way in space as it does on earth”, Karine Van Doninck adds.

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