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Shuttle/Mir Banner

S/MORE WebChat

Date: November 20. 1996

Featuring: Tana Hoban-Higgins, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator
University of California in Davis, California


Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:02AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Tana, our first question is with beetles. Do they sleep, or are they active all day and night? Some of our children have seen cockroaches at night, so they think cockroaches must sleep in the day and play at night.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:07AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Hello. The kids are correct, cockroaches sleep in the day and play at night. This beetle, since it lives in the desert, is active at dawn and dusk (when there is light, but the temperature is not too hot).

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:09AM PDT (-0800 GMT) When the beetle is not active, does that mean it is sleeping?

Andrea/NASA/ChatHost: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:09AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Greetings everyone. Before we get going - let me formally introduce Tana: Meet Tana M. Hoban-Higgins, Ph.D. She is a Principal Investigator at the University of California in Davis, California. Tana and her co-investigators designed the Beetle experiment for the Shuttle/Mir program to examine how the body clock is affected by spaceflight. Previous experiments have suggested that the body clock may respond differently in space than on the Earth.

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:10AM PDT (-0800 GMT) We have heard that in space there is a new dawn every 90 minutes, because of the orbits, does that mean the beetles will become active every 90 minutes?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:12AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Hello, again, I'm getting used to the system, my answers will get faster as this goes on. First, when the beetle is not active, it is not moving. It can be sleeping or resting

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:14AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Hi, Gloria. You are correct, the space station and crew can see a new dawn every 90 minutes as they look out their windows. The beetles will be in a room with no windows, so the only lights they see will be the ones we provide.

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:15AM PDT (-0800 GMT) We heard that there is this drug you can buy, called Melatonin, that helps people sleep when they take plane trips. The children wonder whether the astronauts take drugs to help them sleep better?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:19AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Andrea may be able to answer this question better than I can. I know that the astronauts do have sleeping aids available, especially since some astronauts find it harder to fall asleep in microgravity and with all the excitement that is going on (I know I would). I don't think that all the astrounauts use them.

Andrea/NASA/ChatHost: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:20AM PDT (-0800 GMT) I am afraid I don't know the answer.

Mark/Park Middle: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:21AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Is there a reason why beetles were chosen?

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:21AM PDT (-0800 GMT) You said the beetles wouldn't see the sunrises every 90 minutes, they will only see the lights you provide. Do you think that if you kept the beetles in the dark, that they would still wake up and be active at the same time they were used to on earth?

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:23AM PDT (-0800 GMT) The students here want to know what evidence you have that bettles' body clocks work differently in space?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:24AM PDT (-0800 GMT) That is one of the questions we are trying to answer. During spaceflight, other animals (and humans) show a tendency to wake up and be active later than they would on earth.

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:24AM PDT (-0800 GMT) We also wonder what part of the body controls the biological clock.

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:26AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Do organisms that are active at night give birth at night more frequently?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:26AM PDT (-0800 GMT) To answer Mott Hall School: This particular beetle has already been the subject of a short spaceflight experiment. My co-investigator, Dr. Alexei Alpatov, had an experiment on the COSMOS 2229 flight. The beetles "body clock" acted differently during spaceflight. (It appeared to run slower).

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:28AM PDT (-0800 GMT) In mammals, the biological clock is located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. In insects the clock is located in the part of their brain called the optic lobe.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:29AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Humans (which are active during the day) give birth most frequently in the early morning hours, as do rats (which are night active).

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:34AM PDT (-0800 GMT) The children were talking about their cats, and they seem to be able to sleep anywhere, anytime. Why are cats so good at sleeping, and can the astronauts learn from them?

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:34AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Is body clock completly an innate behavior or could it be changed? One of our student's brother worked on the night shift for 2 years, even though he isn't a nightshifter he is still active at night. Why is this?

Mark/Park Middle: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:34AM PDT (-0800 GMT) What did you get your degrees in?

Andrea/NASA/ChatHost: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:37AM PDT (-0800 GMT) These are great questions.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:39AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Cats (my three included) sleep about 18 hours a day. They spend much of their time in a very light sleep during which they can still keep an eye on things around them. One of the reasons for this is that cats (in the wild) are "opportunistic" predators and take advantage of food when it happens by. Some people have also learned to fall asleep anywhere at anytime, but the astronauts very busy schedule will probably not give them this option.

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:43AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Does microgravity appear to affect complete metamorphosis of insects, has this been studied?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:44AM PDT (-0800 GMT) The body clock is an innate system, but it can be altered, especially by light and darkness. The genetics end of things appears to divide people into two categories: those who are up early every day (larks) and those who sleep late, but are active at night (owls). The brother who is active at night would be an owl.

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:47AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Do you know the kinds of genes that tells the difference between a lark and an owl?

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:47AM PDT (-0800 GMT) I have a B. S. in Biology (Cornell) and a Ph. D. in Biology (SUNY Binghamton). I don't believe that complete metamorphosis has been studied in space yet because you would need a long experiment, that would only be available on a space station.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:48AM PDT (-0800 GMT) The location of the genes that determine owl/lark are known in hamsters, but not in humans.

701/Mott Hall School: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:50AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Thank you very much for answering our questions, we have to go now.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:50AM PDT (-0800 GMT) You are welcome.

Mark/Park Middle: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:51AM PDT (-0800 GMT) What is your next project?

Gloria/California: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:53AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Thanks Tana, we enjoyed your answers to our many questions!

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:55AM PDT (-0800 GMT) The beetle project is scheduled to be launched in May of 1997. Usually, the data you get from an experiment, while they may answer the questions you asked, raise a whole lot of other ones. So, I'll probably be designing another beetle experiment. I will also be performing the experiments on the large centrifuges available in our laboratory, with the beetles living at two times earth gravity. Our laboratory is also working on the NASA project Neurolab.

Mark/Park Middle: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:57AM PDT (-0800 GMT) I have to go now too. Your job sounds cool. Thanks for talking with us.

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:59AM PDT (-0800 GMT) My job is way cool. You're welcome.

Andrea/NASA/ChatHost: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 10:59AM PDT (-0800 GMT) We need to get Tana back to her job - this was a wonderful chat. There were great questions AND answers! Thank you Tana!

Tana Hoban-Higgins: . . . . Wed, Nov 20, 11:00AM PDT (-0800 GMT) Bye, Andrea, you're welcome.


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