First squid in space!

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The recent launch of the space shuttle Endeavour hit the headlines as the final flight of the orbiter's 19-year, 25-mission career, but a fact that didn't make most news reports was that alongside the six human astronauts were the first squid in space!

The unlikely passengers were on board as part of an experiment to test the effects of microgravity on bacteria. Previous missions had taken salmonella bacteria (along with other pathogens) into space to monitor the effect of microgravity on these organisms.

Worryingly, it was found that once returned to Earth these bacteria were three times more deadly than their Earth-bound cousins.

The squid were chosen as the first space travelling cephalopods so that scientists can study the effects of microgravity on 'good' bacteria.

Euprymna scolopes commonly known as the Bob-tailed squid carry a symbiotic, bioluminescent microbe called Vibrio fischeri within their cell structure which they use to shine light downwards, meaning they cast no shadow.

To test the effects of space travel on this relationship, newly hatched squid, not yet colonised by the bacteria will be exposed to the bacteria 14 hours after the shuttle's launch.

Unfortunately for the squid, 28 hours later they will be killed and preserved so researchers back on Earth can study them and their bacterial populations once the shuttle returns to Earth.

The results hold particular relevance to the future health of humans in space with the number of bacteria living within the body of the average healthy adult human estimated to outnumber human cells 10 to 1.

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