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City College-bred fruit flies, parasites, in space odyssey

Space-bound fruit fly cultures in a vented fly box
Space-bound fruit fly cultures in a vented fly box
Fruit fly cultures in vented fly boxes aboard the ISS
Fruit fly cultures in vented fly boxes aboard the ISS

Hurtling around Earth, at 17,500 mph some 248 miles in space, is a small swarm of City College of New York-bred fruit flies and their parasitic wasps. The insects, from biologist Shubha Govind’s lab, are part of an experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) whose outcome could be beneficial to astronauts on exploration missions.

Three years ago, Govind was the recipient of a $500,000 NASA grant for the project entitled “Does spaceflight alter the virulence of a natural parasite of Drosophila?” Drosophila is a genus of small flies attracted to ripening fruit. They are often called fruit flies.

The flies were shuttled to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft this month for the culmination of the project. 

“Astronauts’ immune systems can be vulnerable to infections and dysfunction on long-duration space exploration missions, and it is important that we understand how they react to spaceflight conditions,” explained Govind, professor in CCNY’s Division of Science. “The fruit fly has served as a stand-in for human research for over a century. Its genome has more than 70% of the disease genes identified in humans. The mechanisms’ underlying innate immunity—the first line defense against parasites and pathogens, is conserved between flies and humans.”

Govind said the results of the experiment would provide a paradigm for how the human immune system might be affected by an infectious agent in microgravity conditions. “They will also inform us on the parasites’ ability to succeed on their hosts in microgravity,” she added. 

The flies are scheduled back on Earth on May 2 after 30 days in space.

Post-flight research will be done mainly at CCNY in collaboration with NASA scientists from the Ames Research Center.

Govind’s collaborators include Sharmila Bhattacharya of NASA’s Ames Research Center, who is the grant’s co-investigator.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided a high quality and affordable education to generations of New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. Today The Chronicle of Higher Education ranks CCNY #2 among public colleges with the greatest success in ensuring the social mobility of our student body; at the same time the Center for world University Rankings places it in the top 1.2% of universities worldwide in terms of academic excellence. More than 16,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in eight professional schools and divisions, driven by significant funded research, creativity and scholarship. CCNY is as diverse, dynamic and visionary as New York City itself.  View CCNY Media Kit.



Jay Mwamba
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