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Tue, 18 Jul 2000 13:33:04 -0700

This just in:

05:02 PM ET 07/17/00

Space Travel's Effects on Humans

WASHINGTON (AP) - A team of French researchers may have
uncovered a clue to why space travel affects the human body.

Studies of astronauts have shown that periods of weightlessness
reduce the body's bone mass, depress the immune system and lead to
changes usually associated with aging. The causes are not fully
understood but are thought to originate at the cellular level.

The new French study reports that gravity is necessary for
microtubules in developing cells to become organized. These tiny
tubes form a structure called the cytoskeleton, which helps cells
retain their shape by organizing in either parallel or circular

The new study, published in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of
the National Academy of Science, found that cells that began to
develop in the weightlessness of space did not organize the
microtubules even after return to Earth.

Organization was normal, however, in companion sets of cells
sent up in the European Space Agency rocket that were spun in a
centrifuge during their first 13 minutes of development.

"Gravity can thus intervene in a fundamental cellular process
and will indirectly affect other cellular processes that in their
turn depend on microtubule self-organization," reported the team,
led by Cyril Papaseit of the Department of Molecular and Structural
Biology of the French Atomic Energy Commission.

"The gravity direction ... leads to the emergence of form and
pattern," the researchers said. "Such processes may have played a
role in the development of life on Earth."


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