Liftoff to Learning: From Undersea to Outer Space
Table of Contents
Title of Project: Effects of Weightlessness on Aurelia Ephyrae Differentiation and Statolith Synthesis.
Principal Investigator: Dorothy B. Spangenberg, Ph.D., research professor, department of pathology, Eastem Virginia Medical School.
Number of jellyfish launched: 2,478
Number grown for mission: 60,000
Description of Jellyfish: Jellyfish have special structures which enable them to swim and orient. These are called gravity receptors, and they resemble microscopic fingers. These structures have calcium crystals at their tips called statoliths, which move when the animals and the gravity receptors move. These sensitive structures provide positional information to the animal based on the direction of gravity and whether the jellyfish are tilted up or down. It is especially important to know whether statolith crystals form normally in space, since humans have similar calcium-containing crystals (otoconia) in their inner ears which help them maintain balance. In humans, the crystals are not accessible for study during or following spaceflight.
Why Send Jellyfish into Space? Very few studies have been made of developing organisms in space. Jellyfish complete their development at a warm temperature in six days. Many of the developing structures of jellyfish resemble structures of humans, although they are less complicated. Therefore, jellyfish may be used to predict events which may occur in embryos of more complex life forms during spaceflight.
Purpose of Experiment: To determine the effects of microgravity on the developing jellyfish in order to help us understand and prevent the adverse effects of microgravity on biological organisms, including humans. The experiment has also helped us understand how gravity influences development and behavior on Earth. Studies made to determine whether microgravity causes a decrease in the calcium content of the jellyfish and their statolith crystals may help predict a similar calcium deficiency in astronauts. Otoconia crystals are found in the inner ears of humans, but the effect of microgravity on the crystals in humans has not been studied previously.
Procedure: Tiny, baby jellyfish were flown on the Space Shuttle in plastic bags in an incubator. The jellyfish were induced before and during flight to make tiny pulsing and swimming ephyrae from small, slow-moving polyps. During flight, ephyrae developed on Earth (control group), and some which developed in space (experiment group), were videotaped to learn whether they pulsed or swam normally. Following landing, researchers compared the flight and control groups to each other. They studied the development of jellyfish structures, including statoliths; grew new jellyfish through budding; and observed swimming or pulsing movements of ephyrae. (Note: For detailed information on the results of the experiment, refer to the journal articles listed in the reference section of this guide.)
The EVMS Jellyfish Experiment Team:
Dorothy Spangenberg, Ph.D., Principal investigator
Robert McCombs, Ph.D., Executive associate dean, EVMS
James Shaeffer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology and Biophysics, EVMS
James Slusser Director, Electron Microscope Laboratory, EVMS
Mike Prokopchak Biology Teacher, Lake Taylor High School, Norfolk, VA
Technicians, EVMS: Brian Lowe, Mark Sampson, Cora Ramiro, Deborah Leete, Anna Shore
Laboratory Aides, EVMS: Thomas G. Shelton, Manisha Trivedi
Volunteers: Mike McCombs, Mark Hughes, Alison Bames
Experiment Hardware: NASA Ames Research Center developed the chemical delivery and videotaping systems. NASA arant #NAG-2343 funded the research.
The following activities can be used to demonstrate some of the concepts presented in this videotape.
Designing For Spaceflight
Paper and pencils
Challenge students to design a future Space Shuttle experiment using living things as subjects. What animals or plants would the experiment attempt to study? What would the experiment's hypothesis and research procedures be? What would the experiment apparatus look like and how would it function? How would the living things be cared for on the Space Shuttle? Students should submit sketches and descriptions of their apparatus. If time is available, students can construct working models.
Spangenberg, Dorothy, et al., "Graviceptor Development In Space And On Earth," Advanced Space Research, 1994, V14N8, pp. (8)317-325.
___et al., "Development Studies of Aurelia (Jellyfish) Ephyrae Which Developed During The SLS-1 Mission," Advanced Space Research, 1994, V14N8, pp. (8)239-247.
" Jellyfish Launch EVMS Scientist On A Space Odyssey," EVMS Now (Eastern Virginia Medical School alumni . magazine), 1994,V1N4,10-14.
Baker, Diedra, dir. Space Basics, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1991.
- Information on culturing live jellyfish in the classroom is available by writing to: Dr. Dorothy Spangenberg Department of Pathology, Box 1980 Eastem Virginia Medical School Norfolk, Virginia 23501
Principle Investigator Biography
Dr. Dorothy B. Spangenberg (Ph.D.): Dorothy Spangenberg, Ph.D., principal investigator for the study of the effects of microgravity on the development and behavior of jellyfish, is research professor in the department of pathology at Eastem Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia. Dr. Spangenberg received her bachelor and master degrees in zoology and her Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of Texas. Throughout her 31-year career as a developmental biologist, Spangenberg has studied various aspects of jellyfish structure and development. From 1962 to 1965 Spangenberg was a research associate in pathology at the University of Arkansas, and from 1965 to 1966 she was an associate professor at Little Rock University, Arkansas. Spangenberg was a research scholar at Indiana University from 1966 to 1969, and from 1969 to 1972, she conducted jellyfish experiments at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Kentucky. Spangenberg was a visiting associate professor in the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder from 1972 to 1977. In 1977, Spangenberg joined the faculty at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Since that time her research has been funded by the National Institute of Health, the National Institute for Dental Research and Child Health and Human Development, the Department of Energy, and NASA. She is a nationally renowned expert on jellyfish and has published many articles on the development of the organism.
STS-40 Crew Biographies
Commander: Bryan D. O'Connor (Col., USMC).