Research Highlight

Zero gravity may cause more diseases than known

doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.72 Published online 31 May 2016

System biologists have revealed that genetic signatures of some diseases, including many types of cancers, get altered when astronauts are subjected to zero gravity conditions1. The findings, which point to some new disease signatures for the first time, may help assess potential genetic risks of long duration space travel and in developing new space medicine.

Zero gravity in space is known to exert health hazards on astronauts, like reduced immunity, bone and muscle loss, cardiovascular and neurovestibular issues. This new gene expression study identifies more genes and a few pathways, which are perturbed by zero gravity. Combining advanced statistical methods, machine learning algorithms and databases, the researchers analysed gene expression data from multiple human cell experiments in space station, space flight and facilities producing zero gravity like condition on earth. 

The analysis, encompassing almost all known molecular signatures of human diseases, has identified alteration of hundred of new molecular pathways. Thee pathways indicate both increase and decrease in genetic signatures of diseases in zero gravity, which were not reported before. "This includes induction of multiple cancer types like leukemia and liver cancer," says one of the researchers Sangram Bagh. 

On the brighter side, he says, anticancer drugs may response better in zero gravity. Zero gravity may also reduce inflammation, autoimmunity, diabetes and asthma, according to their results.

Ambitious missions, like sending humans to Mars, requires a thorough genetic level understanding to estimate the risks. This study may help design new zero gravity experiments to assess those risks and find solutions for long duration space travel.


1. Mukhopadhyay, S. et al. A systems biology pipeline identifies new immune and disease related molecular signatures and networks in human cells during microgravity exposure. Sci. Rep. 6, 25975 (2016) doi: 10.1038/srep25975