The gravitational force has been constant throughout the 4 billion years of Earth's evolution and probably played a crucial role in the evolutionary development of all organisms and their cellular architecture and function. Investigation of the molecular chromatin architecture and gene expression regulation under Earth’s gravity and the force-free conditions of microgravity will contribute to understand if and how far Earth’s gravity is required for normal cell function, genomic stability and gene regulation homeostasis and how the non-specific gravitational force is transduced into specific gene expression responses. Due to their demonstrated sensitivity to gravitational changes, cells of the human immune system represent an appropriate and suitable model system to investigate the role of Earth’s gravity in chromatin and gene expression homeostasis. Experiments in microgravity will allow to investigate the molecular architecture of the chromatin under force-free conditions and therefore provide an important biomechanical reference point. Our coordinated multi-platform and multi-cell-type approach aims for understanding the molecular mechanisms of gravitational force transduction and the chromatin architecture, function and gene regulation homeostasis determined by Earth’s gravity. Understanding immune regulation in space at an integrated level is a requirement for appropriate risk assessment, medical monitoring and potential countermeasures during exploration class missions.
During the last 10 years, we investigated signal transduction cascades, the metabolism, functional parameters and gene expression responses in human lymphocytes and macrophages in different gravity environments through multi-platform approaches (parabolic flights, suborbital ballistic rockets, International Space Station and 2D clinostat and centrifuge experiments), including rigorous control experiments. We are working together with research institutions from the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Russia and China and with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Swedish Space Cooperation (SSC) and with NASA.
We are working as partner of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), Kennedy Space Center, under a NASA-UZH Space Act Agreement (SAA) about “Biological Research Activities”.