They’re squid. No, really. Science 2.0 has blown the whistle on the final Space Shuttle mission – the one that finally brings squid back to the stars where they belong:
So, okay, the obvious question: why exactly would you want to put squids in space? I mean, besides the cool factor, what is there to be gained? I did a little more poking around, and, bless the internet, there’s a webpage on the project. It turns out that the particular species of squid to be shipped off-planet is our old friend the bobtail squid.
What makes this squid unique is its light organ, which glows at night and hides its shadow from prey lurking underneath. The light is powered by a particular bioluminescent bacteria (Vibrio fishceri) that the squid draws in from the surrounding water. Every day it expels the old bacteria and takes in a new batch. Newly born squid can’t produce the light, but within several hours they become bioluminescent as they take in the bacteria. This development gives scientists a close look at morphogenesis, which is the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape—one of the fundamentals of development biology. The squid experiment came about when Ned [faculty sponsor] learned about the work of Dr. Jamie S. Foster at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Dr. Foster’s work is focused on what happens to this morphogenesis process under micro-gravity conditions.
A-ha! So the real question is morphogenesis under micro-gravity, or, what is the effect of gravity on how an organism makes its shape? And the squid/bacteria symbiosis happens to be a good model system to answer this question.
See the Milton “Squids in Space” page for more.
And watch the skies.