Light of life

Aug 27, 2014
Credit: ESA-Yassen Abbas

A fluorescent microscopic view of cells from a type of bone cancer, being studied for a future trip to deep space – aiming to sharpen our understanding of the hazardous radiation prevailing out there.

Today's orbiting close to Earth are protected from most by our planet's atmosphere and .

In future, astronaut missions are planned to Mars and beyond. But heading farther out to space would increase crews' , not just from the charged particles expelled by our own Sun but also the thrown out by the rest of the cosmos, known as 'galactic cosmic radiation'.

Concern is greatest around the 1% of nuclei the size of an iron atom or more – known as 'high-ionising high-energy particles' or HZE for short.

Accelerated close to light speed by magnetic fields as they cross the Universe, HZEs can slice right through DNA. The most serious class of damage is termed 'double-strand breaks', leading to loss of genetic information and potentially triggering cancer

"However cells do have an ability to repair double-strand breaks, and this is what we want to study," explains Yassen Abbas, a young graduate trainee at ESA's Life, Physical Science and Life Support Laboratory.

"The aim is to follow the repair process in real time; the cells we are using have a marker which will express a dedicated fluorescent fusion protein, allowing us to monitor the formation of DNA repair."

The test subjects are osteosarcoma cells – a type of – that have been selected because of their rapid growth characteristics. "The more cells per sample, the higher the chance of observing a radiation event," adds Yassen.

The proposed experiment would include a camera to trace the progress of the repair process, returning images to the ground in real time.

But this isn't an experiment that can be done on the International Space Station, or anywhere else in low-Earth orbit. Instead the proposed payload will have to be placed in deep space, while also keeping the cell samples alive and comfortable.

Yassen has been working on the practicalities of achieving this on a fully automated basis.

He adds: "At one time we were planning to fly as a passenger on ESA's now-cancelled Lunar Lander. As an alternative, missions to other destinations could be considered, or else a dedicated CubeSat."

The image has been fluorescently stained to visualise the cells' nuclei in blue and their surrounding cytoskeleton in red. The image covers a length of approximately 305 micrometres (equivalent to 0.305 millimetres) The scale bar measures 25 micrometres across.

Explore further: Microgravity and radiation exposure add up to serious health risks for astronauts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Regolith: Protection for humans on Mars

Sep 18, 2012

For six weeks the rover "Curiosity" is now working on Mars. NASA also plans to send humans to Mars within the next 20 years. On the flight and during the stay on Moon or Mars the astronauts have to be protected ...

Recommended for you

Space: The final frontier... open to the public

10 minutes ago

Historically, spaceflight has been reserved for the very healthy. Astronauts are selected for their ability to meet the highest physical and psychological standards to prepare them for any unknown challenges. However, with ...

NASA releases IRIS footage of X-class flare (w/ Video)

11 minutes ago

On Sept. 10, 2014, NASA's newest solar observatory, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, mission joined other telescopes to witness an X-class flare – an example of one of the strongest solar flares—on ...

NASA's Maven spacecraft reaches Mars this weekend

45 minutes ago

Mars, get ready for another visitor or two. This weekend, NASA's Maven spacecraft will reach the red planet following a 10-month journey spanning 442 million miles (711 million kilometers).

Video: MAVEN set to slide into orbit around Mars

7 hours ago

A NASA mission to Mars led by the University of Colorado Boulder is set to slide into orbit around the red planet this week after a 10-month, 442-million mile chase through the inner solar system. 

Dawn operating normally after safe mode triggered

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The Dawn spacecraft has resumed normal ion thrusting after the thrusting unexpectedly stopped and the spacecraft entered safe mode on September 11. That anomaly occurred shortly before a planned ...

User comments : 0