Mosquito Survives in Space for 18 Months

Mosquitos: Tougher than they look
Mosquitos: Tougher than they look

According to results from a Russian biology experiment on the International Space Station (ISS), a mosquito has survived the rigours of space for 18 months. However, this little winged insect didn’t do it inside the comfort of the ISS, he did it outside, in a small can.

The experiment was carried out by the same Russian-Japanese collaboration that brought us Space Beer from space-grown barley (I think you know my feelings about that endeavour), to study the effects of microgravity on various organisms and plants. However, in this case, our little mosquito drew the short straw and was attached to the outside of the station.

The mosquito study is intended to see how the insect copes with being exposed to damaging cosmic rays and the extreme variations in temperature, in the build-up to a possible Russian manned mission to Mars. According to a Russian media source, the future Mars cosmonauts are already training for the mission in a forest outside Moscow

©Gerald Yuvallos/Flickr
©Gerald Yuvallos/Flickr

I found this new report fascinating. Not only did an insect survive that ordeal for 18 months, Russia appears to be seriously training for an upcoming manned expedition to Mars. However, I’m not too sure why the training is being carried out in a Moscow forest (perhaps Siberia, the Arctic or Antarctic would be better?), and why a tough mosquito will directly help the first manned Mars effort is anyone’s guess. Still, scientifically, the mosquito test is very impressive.

The Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems are currently assessing the impact of cosmic radiation on living organisms as part of the Biorisk program. It would appear that this hardy mosquito coped just fine with no life support and no climate control. The mosquito experienced varying temperatures from a chilly -150°C in the shade to a rather toasty +60°C in direct sunlight. One would expect that after 18 months of this torture treatment there wouldn’t be much left of the freeze dried mozzie, but in fact, he was still “alive” after returning to Earth.

We brought him back to Earth. He is alive, and his feet are moving.” — Anatoly Grigoryev, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences

So, how did the mosquito do it? Actually, the mosquito’s natural ability to switch into suspended animation during periods of drought saved this little guy from a rather unglamorous demise.

Professor Takashi Okuda from the National Institute of Agro-Biological Science drew our attention to the unique, although short-lived, African mosquito, whose larvae develop only in a humid environment,” Grigoryev said.

This breed of mosquito has the ability to enter suspended animation by replacing the water molecules inside its body into tricallosa sugar, causing crystallization. This freezes virtually all bodily functions until the next season of rainfall when the mosquito life-cycle can continue.

Naturally, this raises questions about the possibility of life spreading from planet-to-planet (panspermia) via biological “seeds”. If a mosquito can “switch off” and survive for long periods in space, perhaps extraterrestrial life has done the same, spawning life as we know it on Earth. Also, this study may help us develop new ways to help prolong the lives of future interplanetary astronauts, possibly allowing a biological suspended animation during long trips.

However, It is unclear whether the intrepid mosquito is healthy, whether he is still able to father baby mozzies, or whether he was integrated back into insect society OK, but at least his feet are moving.

Source: RIA Novosti

14 thoughts on “Mosquito Survives in Space for 18 Months”

  1. Nice space mosquito report.

    It made my however more determined to brutally squash any mosquito coming my way. No space or no-rain survival kit will save those mozzies, let me assure you. 🙂

  2. Interesting story! The survival is truly amazing.

    When Americans return to the Moon or the Russians make it to Mars, probably they’ll find mosquitoes descended from those that have hitched rides on all the probes so far, from summer launches in Florida and Texas… Our first envoys into space; mosquitoes as ambassadors. Very nice.

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