The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 33: 213 - 226 (1989)

Vol 33, Issue 2

Microgravity effects on the oogenesis and development of embryos of Drosophila melanogaster laid in the Spaceshuttle during the Biorack experiment (ESA)

Published: 1 June 1989

I Vernós, J González-Jurado, M Calleja and R Marco

Department of Biochemistry, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain.


The results obtained during the last successful flight of the Challenger Shuttle, in early November 1985, indicate that oogenesis and embryonic development of Drosophila melanogaster are altered in the absence of gravity. Two hundred forty females and ninety males, wild type Oregon R Drosophila melanogaster flies were flown in the Spaceshuttle during the 7-day D-1 mission and the embryos laid during the spaceflight were recovered and studied. Although some eggs developed into normal 1st instar larvae and many into late embryos in the 23 +/- 2 h collection periods throughout the flight, several interesting differences from the parallel ground and in-flight centrifuge controls were observed: 1) There was an increase in oocyte production and size. 2) There was a significant decrease in the number of larvae hatched from the embryonic cuticles in microgravity. 3) The majority of embryos were normally fertilized and at late stages of development, except in the space-flown containers in microgravity where a percentage of earlier stage embryos were recovered showing alterations in the deposition of yolk. 4) In correspondence with these results, at least 25% of the living embryos recovered from space failed to develop into adults. 5) Studies of the larval cuticles and those of the late embryos indicate the existence of alterations in the anterior, head and thoracic regions of the animals. 6) There was a delay in the development into adults of the embryos and larvae that had been subjected to microgravity and recovered from the space shuttle at the end of the flight. No significant accumulation of lethal mutations in any of the experimental conditions was detected as measured through the male to female ratio in the descendant generation. It seems that Drosophila melanogaster flies are able to sense and respond to the absence of gravity, changing several developmental processes even in very short space flights. The results suggest an interference with the distribution and/or deposition of the maternal components involved in the specification of the anterioposterior axis of the embryo.

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