Jellyfish developed in space have trouble getting around on Earth

What are the consequences of growing up in space? Well, if you're a jellyfish, once you find yourself subject to Earth's gravity, you may have more trouble swimming than your counterparts who were born on Earth.

Moon Jellyfish photo by Chris Williamson.

Deep Sea News points to this interesting factoid, which may offer some hints at the challenges of long-term space travel. During the ephyra stage in a jellyfish's development, jellyfish develop rhopalia, sensory structures that include statoliths, which allow the jellyfish to sense gravity. The statoliths are calcium crystals that sit inside a side, the interior of which is coated in sensory hairs. The movement of the statolith inside the pocket informs the jellyfish which way is up and which way is down.

A 1994 paper in Advances in Space Research examines the effects of the development of rhopalia in Aurelia aurita (moon jellyfish) ephyrae that developed during the nine-day NASA SLS-1 mission. (At launch, the jellyfish were in their polyp phase; the ephyra stage was induced post-launch.) Although the rhopalia developed by the ephyrae in space were morphologically similar to the rhopalia developed by their home-grown counterparts, researchers observed that some of the space-developed jellies showed pulsing abnormalities, which may point to abnormal development of the rhopalia.

Because the rhopalia has some similarities to the vestibular system in mammals (human otoliths, for example, are analogous to statoliths), these jellyfish experiments invite questions about whether humans who are born or grow up in microgravity might also have mobility issues in Earth's gravity related to abnormal development of their sensory structures.

Jellyfish go to space, say it was “meh, kinda sucky” [Deep Sea News via Boing Boing]