Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Laboratory worms survive Shuttle Columbia disaster

Researchers found out that the lab worms on board Shuttle Columbia had survived the blast.

The tiny creatures showed “incredible vitality on the verge of immortality,” according to Academician Ronald Sagdeyev, a leading NASA expert.

Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during the reentry on February 1, 2003. All seven crewmembers died. The wreckage of the spacecraft was scattered over the area of several U.S. states.

“Two years after the Columbia disaster, a number of monographs and articles in scientific journals were written about those worms, Caenorhabditis elegans, and a dissertation in being written on the subject,” said Academician Sagdeyev, in an interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Lately the wee creatures have become America’s national heroes,” added the scientist.

Five sealed boxes with worms were discovered among the wreckage. Researchers unsealed the boxes and found out that the worms were alive and crawling in four out of five containers. Those worms are the space veterans, so to speak. Caenorhabditis elegans had been to space for several times. Prior to the ill-fated Shuttle mission, the worms were put in the boxes filled with new medium, which was to have been used for unmanned space missions. Researchers also wanted to know whether the worms were capable of living and multiplying under micro- gravitation.

“The results were quite staggering,” said Sagdeyev. “Subjected to extremely harsh conditions of a forced super tough experiment, the worms survived not only the weakened gravity, they also survived enormous G-force exceeding the norms by a few thousand times. The fragments of the spacecraft fell to the ground from an extremely high altitude, they collided with one another before impacting Earth. Besides, the containers with worms warmed up pretty bad following the destruction of the spacecraft. Researchers believed the worms would not make in under such conditions. However, both organic environment and most animals survived,” said Sagdeyev.

“This is the fist piece of evidence showing that a life form can survive in conditions similar to those during the passage of a meteorite through the atmosphere,” said Dr. Catherine Conley, head of a research team. Dr. Conley was quoted as saying that “spacecraft from Earth can accidentally spread biological matter among other heavenly bodies.” The sensational statement of the researcher gave rise to a wave of most incredible rumors and speculations. Newspapers and magazines published stories about life forms being dropped to our planet from space in prehistoric times.

“The scope of our knowledge about the nature of survivability is limited. Contrary to a customary opinion, the resources of a living organism are much greater,” said Dr. Boris Pavlov, senior researcher at the Institute of Medical and Biological Studies.

“Russian geneticists recently discovered a section in human DNA, it occurs in worms while missing in most organisms positioned higher on the evolution ladder. Researchers believe the discovery indicates a slower process of evolution in humans compared to Drosophila flies whose genome has also been thoroughly studied. A sequence of nucleotides connecting worms and humans relates to the so-called intrones i.e. “inserts” between the genes. The role of intrones still has to be investigated. According to a theory, they are indirectly involved in the passing of hereditary information. A “compact” genetic code with a minimum of inserts is thought to be characteristic of some quickly developed species e.g. most insects which are obviously related to worms. On the other hand, worms are the closest relatives to humans when it comes to composition of some DNA structures. This is yet another biological mystery, we cannot explain it yet,” said Dr. Pavlov.

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