It's a simple but haunting question: Can microgravity influence gene expression? Yes, according to a recent study of human cells conducted aboard NASA's space shuttle. In fact, the results are so promising that the investigators believe their continuing research could lead to better toxicology tests, key elements of tissue engineering, and new treatments for various diseases--while broadening the scope of scientific experimentation.

Astronaut Katherine P. Hire works with the bioreader system aboard Columbia on April 28, 1998.
"We flew a cell culture incubator containing human kidney cells specifically to look at renal hormone production of vitamin D3 and erythropoietin, and we found that there were dramatic effects, that many, many genes change," says principal investigator Timothy G. Hammond, associate professor of medicine and nephrology at Tulane University Medical Center's Environmental Astrobiology Center and a Veterans Administration (VA) physician. "Our idea was that this [occurred] because the mechanical culture conditions...

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