Pathfinder Grant Awarded to Eleni Gourgou

Eleni Gourgou, Associate Research Scientist at U-M Mechanical Engineering, was awarded a U-M Space Institute Pathfinder Grant in the amount of $5,000, for her project “The Impact of Artificial Microgravity on Lifespan and Spatial Learning” in December 2023.

“Microgravity is known to have an impact on animals’ physiology, as shown via numerous experiments with both invertebrates and vertebrates, and in observations of humans in space missions. However, the exact mechanisms through which reduced gravity affects the neuronal basis of behavior remain largely obscure. The 1mm-long nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is one of the best-established model organisms in experimental biology, and it is being used to decipher a plethora of biological phenomena in developmental biology, sensory biology, neurobiology, and the biology of aging. Here, we propose to use C. elegans nematodes as a model system, to explore how microgravity affects lifespan and spatial learning. We also plan to investigate whether microgravity augments or delays the aging-related changes observed in the performance of normal gravity-grown nematodes. To achieve our goals, we will expose nematodes to microgravity, by loading them on a house-built, 3D clinostat device, which leverages 3-axis rotation to negate gravitational forces. We will employ established lifespan evaluation protocols and our Worm Maze platform, developed by our group, to assess spatial learning. The topic of the proposed work is highly interdisciplinary and brings together people from two different units, since the PI’s home department is Mechanical Engineering (CoE), and the student team members will be Biology/Neuroscience majors at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA).”