Fruit flies flying to space to help scientists study the human heart

Falcon 9 rocket to launch three tons of supplies, experiments Saturday

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – About 6,000 pounds of supplies and science experiments scheduled for launch to the International Space Station Saturday will include what you might normally consider nothing more than a nuisance.

But Dr. Karen Ocorr, a scientist studying heart disease, told News 6 studying the effects of zero gravity on a fruit fly's heart can reveal a lot about the human heart as well.

"Absolutely. They're very similar in many different respects," said Ocorr, an assistant professor with the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute which has offices in Orlando and La Jolla, California.

Ocorr said Friday that while the organ is microscopic, a fruit fly's heartbeat is about the same as a person's and the flies share 75 percent of genes that humans have that cause heart disease.

Ocorr said 4,000 fruit fly eggs and about 400 adult flies in six boxes will travel on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to the ISS.

The fly eggs will hatch in space and the flies will age three weeks before coming back to Earth.

Ocorr says the flies will also reproduce in space.

SBP scientists conducted a similar experiment on a smaller scale in 2014.

One box of flies went to the ISS on the SpaceX 3 mission that launched at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Ocorr said her team was able to study 300 flies that survived the round trip.

"That was very exciting because for our research, we need to have them alive so we can look at their heart function," Ocorr said. "That's the primary focus of our studies."

Ocorr expects up to 6,000 fruit flies to come back to Earth as a result of this resupply mission to the ISS.

The Falcon 9 rocket launch scrubbed Thursday because of threatening weather is now scheduled for 5:07 p.m. Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A.

It will be the 100th launch from the historic pad.

The launch can be watched live on News 6 and ClickOrlando.com/space.

About the Author: