New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge

The Effects of Hyper-gravity on Organisms

Team: 142

School: School of Dreams Academy

Area of Science: Biology


Interim: Team Number: 142
School Name: School of Dreams Academy
Area of Science: Biology
Project Title: Effects of Increased Gravity on Microorganisms

Problem Definition:
Exoplanets orbiting other stars are being discovered on a weekly basis. As the technology for detection improves, we are finding more and more such bodies in the so-called “Super Earth” category. This category means they are larger than Earth in mass, anywhere from 1.5 to about 7 or 8 Earth masses. Although we still lack the resolution to fully understand these relatively tiny distant bodies, it is not too soon to begin to think about them as real places with characterizable environments. The effects of very different planetary conditions from those we experience on Earth will have shaped the nature of any life forms that may exist on Super Earths.
The primary consequence of a much larger mass than Earth is the greater gravitational attraction that these bodies will exert. On our planet, many organisms respond in various ways to the gravitational field here. These responses have only been investigated to a very limited extent (e.g. Deguchi et al., 2011). We propose to test Earth organisms of several varieties under simulated hyper-gravity conditions (Bradamante et al., 2006). We will develop a program that will determine the effects increased gravity will have on the organisms. In turn we will be able to verify by actually carrying out the experiment. We will measure them for detectable physiological indicators that are appropriate to each test species. The results of these experiments will help us to understand some of the major challenges that organisms will face should they arise on a habitable planet larger than Earth.

Problem Solution:
To determine the effects of hyper-gravity a program is being developed using NetLogo. The user will be able to vary the levels of gravitational force, number of molecules, density of the molecules, and the viscosity of the cell’s plasma. Based on the user input the program will run a simulation to show how the molecules in the cell will be affected. The “molecular agents” will travel on “plasma patches”. The patches will provide plasma viscosity data. The Lamm equation will be part of the “molecular agents” movement procedure as well as random Brownian Motion. At this time, we are looking into all of the other factors that control molecular interactions within a cell. In our initial research, we realize our model will be very basic.

Progress to Date:
Currently, research is being done on the structure of bacteria and the different cell functions. The weight and size (density) of each organelle needs to be determined to accurately demonstrate the effect of increased gravity. The centrifuge is also being built and the supplies needed for experimentation or being acquired. We have also been writing the basic program so that when the research is completed we can alter the program as needed.

Expected Results:
The program is expected to show the user how the bacteria are affected when under increased gravitational forces. This will be done by determining changes in organelles based on size, shape, structure, and placement within the cell. Eventually we hope to use more complicated organisms to determine if colonization on exoplanets is possible.

Validation and Verification of the Model:
Our team has some concerns about how we plan on modeling a cell in increased gravity levels. We have sent out emails requesting feedback and input from subject experts to the validity of the approach in our model.

Verification of the Experiment:
Our team is working with Dr. Boston from New Mexico Tech on building a centrifuge to test the effects of hyper gravity on single celled organisms. Specifically, because the bacteria, Aliivibrio fisheri, glow under stress we are testing for a change in luminosity which is directly related to the changes in the organelles. The first centrifuge prototype has been built and it is going to be tested over Winter Break. The actual experiment will be conducted at NM Tech under the supervision of Dr. Boston and NM Tech student Paige Hansen.

References:
Barjaktarovic´ et al 2007. Time-course of changes in amounts of specific proteins upon exposure to hyper-g, 2-D clinorotation, and 3-D random positioning of Arabidopsis cell cultures. J. Exp. Bot. 58(15):4357-4363.

Bradamante et al 2006. From Hypergravity to Microgravity: Choosing the Suitable Simulator.
Bremen Microgravity sci. technol. XVIII-3/4.

Deguchi et al 2011. Microbial growth at hyperaccelerations up to 403,627 X g. PNAS 108
(19):7997-8002.

Erdmann et al. 1997. Effect of Gravity Changes on the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC
6803. Curr. Microbio. 35:348–355.

Hoson et al 2005. Signal perception, transduction, and response in gravity resistance. Another
graviresponse in plants. Adv. Space Res. 36:1196-1202


Team Members: Maria Troyer, Victoria Troyer, Kaleb Brown
Mentors: Dr. Penny Boston and Paige Hansen
Sponsoring Teacher: Creighton Edington


Team Members:

  Maria Troyer
  Victoria Troyer
  Kaleb Brown

Sponsoring Teacher: Creighton Edington

Mail the entire Team

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