Gravely drew a connection between ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the muscle loss astronauts suffer after spending extended periods in space, where they become weaker because their bodies aren’t working against gravity. Some researchers spend years working to conduct an experiment in space, but for a group of young Toronto scientists, all it took was a school project.
The four students were in grades 8 through 12 when they first proposed shooting a tube of microscopic worms into orbit so they could study the effects of low gravity on muscle deterioration.
Now, the young women are all published scientists after their experiment’s unexpected findings were featured in the peer-reviewed academic journal “Gravitational Space Research” last week.
If an ALS-linked enzyme were to increase in worms exposed to microgravity, Gravely theorized, it could help researchers understand the mechanism that causes muscle atrophy, which would have implications for a host of degenerative diseases.
They found the worms that had been exposed to microgravity had lower levels of the ALS-linked enzyme than the control group.
“This may be a real finding that could be quite significant for looking at regulation of muscle mass in the future.”