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Awakening Endogenous Retroviruses with the Space Environment (80NSSC19K1057)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Radiation biology
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human
Scientific Name: Mus musculus Species: Mouse Strain: C57BL/6J


NASA is preparing for space exploration beyond low earth orbit (LEO). Space exploration beyond LEO poses threats to astronauts’ mental and physical health due to chronic exposure to microgravity and space radiation. Exposure to space radiation has four primary biomedical risks: degenerative tissue effects, neurological effects, carcinogenesis, and acute radiation syndrome. Exposure to microgravity compounds these risks. Modifications to cellular and molecular mechanisms because of exposure to the space environment must be understood in order to mitigate the consequences.

Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs) are genetic elements that comprise approximately eight percent of the human genome and are considered to play a major role in human evolution. ERVs are genomic instability markers that are maintained in a dormant state by epigenetic mechanisms. However, environmental stressors can inadvertently activate expression of ERVs. Activation of ERVs have been associated with the development of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative disease in humans. ERV activation may have detrimental health effects on astronauts including biological, mental, and reproductive consequences. Astronauts are exposed to exogenous stressors, microgravity and space radiation, which can cause ERV activation through genomic modifications.

The goal of this experiment was to address if microgravity and radiation could influence expression of ERVs and retroviral elements in human stem/progenitor cells in vitro and in mouse tissues in vivo. This study had the following specific aims:

  1. Evaluate human cells grown in a microgravity environment for evidence of ERV activation.
  2. Evaluate mouse tissues that have been exposed to space radiation for evidence of ERV activation.

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Stem cells

RNA, endogenous retroviruses (ERV)-encoded, expression (Human)
RNA, endogenous retroviruses (ERV)-encoded, expression (Mice)
RNA, retrotransposable element (Human)
RNA, retrotransposable element (Mice)
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Ground 05/01/2009 In Progress

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source