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The International Space Station over Earth. Photo: NASA via Getty Images

Genetically enhanced mice retained or increased muscle mass after spending a month on the International Space Station.

Why it matters: The findings of the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that muscle and bone loss could be mitigated for astronauts on space flights as well as for people on Earth who experience muscle degeneration.

What they did: The nonprofit Jackson Laboratory provided 40 black, female mice that were placed on a SpaceX rocket that traveled to the space station for the "Rodent Research-19" experiment.

What they found: 24 mice that were left untreated experienced muscle and bone mass loss of up to 18%.

  • But eight "mighty mice" lost none of their brawn after being modified to lack the protein myostatin, which blocks a molecular signaling pathway.
  • The muscles increased noticeably in eight other mice given the "mighty mouse" treatment in space after they returned to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule on Jan. 7.

What they're saying: Lead researcher Se-Jin Lee, of the Jackson Laboratory, and wife Emily Germain-Lee, of Connecticut Children's Medical Center, who also took part in the study, told AP the results were encouraging.

  • But Germain-Lee added researchers were "years away" from testing the drug in people without concerns about "serious side effects."
  • Lee said they were looking at possibly sending more "mighty mice" to space for a longer duration.

Of note: NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir and Christina Koch — who made history with the first female spacewalk last October — cared for the mice on the ISS, and they're listed as study co-authors.

Go deeper

How NASA and the Space Force might fare under Biden

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden hasn't gone out of his way to talk about outer space during his presidential campaign. That could be bad news for NASA's exploration ambitions, but good news for the Space Force.

The big picture: NASA faces two threats with any new administration: policy whiplash and budget cuts. In a potential Biden administration, the space agency could get to stay the course on the policy front, while competing with other priorities on the spending side.

Updated Jan 1, 2019 - Science

Deep Dive: The new global race to space

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A few years ago, a Silicon Valley billionaire decried that he and his friends dreamed of flying cars, and instead got 140 characters. He was wrong: They, along with entrepreneurs and governments around the world, got much more — a space race on steroids.

The big picture: From Dubai to the U.S., Tokyo to Moscow, Tel Aviv to Beijing and more, billionaires, privateers and political leaders are vying to land on the Moon, colonize Mars, mine asteroids — and just get off the Earth. "Whatever we have evolved into hundreds and thousands of years from now, we'll look at these decades as when the human race moved off the planet," said Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X-Prize Foundation.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 1, 2020 - Science

The rise of military space powers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nations around the world are shoring up their defensive and offensive capabilities in space — for today's wars and tomorrow's.

Why it matters: Using space as a warfighting domain opens up new avenues for technologically advanced nations to dominate their enemies. But it can also make those countries more vulnerable to attack in novel ways.