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NASA Official Says Genomics Key to Long Space Trips

BETHESDA, April 3 - Genomics techniques are essential to understanding and dealing with the physiological effects of long space flights, including tours of duty on the International Space Station and an eventual extended mission to Mars, said a NASA official.

"We took DNA arrays, and we studied gene expression, and we found that microgravity stimulated gene expression not seen on the ground,” NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin said Monday at a joint symposium sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. 

“Instead of building bone mass during waking hours in space, the bones dissolve, and muscles atrophy. We used to study the macroscopic effects, and we used to have the astronauts doing all sorts of physical exercises. I think the solution to some of these problems will be in understanding the genetic expression and how it triggers the different systems in the body,” he added.

The symposium was intended to encourage joint projects between NASA’s astrobiologists and biomedical researchers at NIH in areas such as the response of cells, tissues, and organisms to radiation and microgravity, as well as the origin of life on Earth. 

“This is the start of a new collaboration that will not only help NASA in its search for life elsewhere in the universe, but can also significantly expedite biomedical and technology advances…and help us solve the problems of finally getting astronauts to Mars,” Goldin said.

Goldin said that the proposed 2002 budget offered less money for science than researchers would have liked, but added that he expected increased popular support for joint NASA/NIH projects to stimulate greater spending over the next few years.

“This [budget] will allow us to begin to work with each other, and then we’re going to start moving,” Goldin said. “It’s going to become so obvious to the American people, and they will express it in the Congress, that this is a marriage made in heaven.”

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