Reading Hair Roots in Space
The long-term health of astronauts as they spend more and more time in space is a critical concern for the future of space exploration. What’s needed is a quick and easy way to continually monitor and assess the health of the astronaut. A combined US and Japanese team have been looking into astronaut’s hair follicles as an easy method of assessing their overall health during long space flights.
Other effects on astronauts of long-term flights, such as muscle atrophy, bone calcium loss and loss of both aerobic power and muscle strength, have already been well-documented. Analysis of protein and gene expression in hair follicles promises to monitor these and other effects of prolonged space flights.
Hair is one of the most suitable biological specimens for analysis because it can generally be obtained by non-invasive and relatively easy procedures. Hair matrix cells actively divide in a hair follicle and are known to sensitively reflect the host’s physical conditions.
The study is part of an experiment conducted by the Japanese nicknamed “HAIR”.
In all 5 hairs were collected from 10 astronauts for analysis. By conducting microarray and real time qPCR analyses the researchers were able to search out patterns of changes in protein and gene function during extended space flights.
The study found that spaceflight alters a variety of gene expressions in human hair follicles but that these changes vary between individuals as well as gender. Perhaps unsurprisingly the study detected changes in genes related to hair growth but these changes were only detected in some astronauts. The changes that were detected suggest that spaceflight inhibits cell proliferation in hair follicles.
The study also revealed that gender appears to influence the response to spaceflight. The responses of female astronauts were slightly different from those of male astronauts. Although there are many differences such as hormone levels or functions between genders, female astronauts appear to have a better response against the features of the space environment.
The authors of the paper that was published today in PLOS One stress that this is just the beginning of an investigation into using hair samples to monitor the on-going health of astronauts in space and that the results so far support the conclusion that each astronaut needs to be monitored individually because of the variability of reactions to the space environment.
- Link to original research article: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150801
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