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NASA sends squid from Hawaii into space for research

Dozens of baby squid from Hawaii were blasted into space earlier this month on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station for a study.
Dozens of baby squid from Hawaii were blasted into space earlier this month on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station for a study. (Craig T. Kojima/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via Associated Press)
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Dozens of baby squid from Hawaii have been sent to space for a study.

The baby Hawaiian bobtail squid were raised at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and were blasted into space this month on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Researcher Jamie Foster, who completed her doctorate at the University of Hawaii, is studying how spaceflight affects the squid in hope of improving human health during long space missions, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

The squid have a relationship with natural bacteria that help regulate their bioluminescence, which is when organisms emit light.

When astronauts are in low gravity their body’s relationship with bacteria changes, said University of Hawaii professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, whom Foster studied under in the 1990s.

The way humans’ relationship with their microbes is affected by gravity is true for squids, too, and Foster is using squids to better understand what is going on with humans, according to McFall-Ngai.

Foster is now a Florida professor and an investigator for a NASA program that researches how feeling weightless — or floating — in space affects the interactions between animals and microbes.

“As astronauts spend more and more time in space, their immune systems become what’s called dysregulated. It doesn’t function as well,” Foster said. “Their immune systems don’t recognize bacteria as easily. They sometimes get sick.”

Foster said understanding what happens to the squid in space could help solve health problems that astronauts face.

“There are aspects of the immune system that just don’t work properly under long-duration spaceflights,” she said. “If humans want to spend time on the moon or Mars, we have to solve health problems to get them there safely.”

The Kewalo Marine Laboratory breeds the squid for research projects around the world. The tiny animals are plentiful in Hawaiian waters and are about 3 inches long as adults.

The squid will come back to Earth in July.

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