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Study of the Biological Dormancy of Aquatic Organisms in Open Space and Space Flight Conditions


In outer space, ultraviolet and cosmic radiation, a wide range of high and low temperatures, altered gravity, electromagnetic fields, the vacuum, and their combinations determine the damaging effect on living organisms and act as a barrier to their interplanetary propagation. At the same time, biological dormancy, known in a wide range of bacteria, fungi, animals, and plants, makes it possible to preserve the viability of their dormant stages under extreme conditions for a long time. Along with lower organisms, resting stages (propagules) of multicellular animals and plants were tested on the ISS from 2005 to 2016 to assess their ability to survive after long-term exposure to open space and space flight conditions. About one-third of the more than 40 species studied were dormant stages of aquatic organisms (Cyprinodontiformes fish eggs, daphnia ephippii, resting eggs of phyllopods and ostracods, and diapausing larvae of dipterans). The experiments were carried out within the framework of four research programs: (1) inside the ISS station (AKVARIUM program) with a limited set of studied species; (2) outside the station in outer space, but without exposure to ultraviolet radiation (BIORISK programs); (3) in modified space conditions simulating the surface of Mars (EXPOSE-R program); and (4) in ground-based experiments with laboratory assessment of the impact of space flight factors (such as neutron radiation) on resting stages. Fundamentally new data were obtained on the tolerance of resting stages of terrestrial organisms to space environment factors, which has changed the idea of the possibility of bringing terrestrial life forms by spacecraft and astronauts to other planets.

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The author is grateful to all members of the Institute of Biomedical Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as to members of ISS crews, who participated in the preparation and performance of experiments with resting stages in space flight. I express particular gratitude to members of the Institute of Biomedical Problems N.D. Novikova and M.A. Levinskikh for the consultations. I am grateful to member of the Institute of Inland Water Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, V.V. Krylov for technical support during the experiments with the modified magnetic field. The author is also grateful to the participants of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research/Japan and Russian Foundation for Basic Research/Taiwan international projects for assistance in the research. I thank Professor W. Lampert (Ploen, Germany) for his invaluable assistance in providing the instrumental facilities of the Max Planck Institute of Limnology, which were used in the experiment inside the ISS and during the discussion of its results. The author is sincerely grateful to the anonymous reader for the valuable comments, which, undoubtedly, helped to improve the perception of this review. O.A. Chaban helped considerably in preparing and drafting the manuscript of the article.


This review was initiated and supported by a grant from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, “Expansion” (project no. 19-14-50004). This study was supported in part by the Federal Program for Studying the Biodiversity of the Animal World (project no. AAAA-A19-119020690091-0), Russian Academy of Sciences, and RFBR grant 20-04-00035. The Federal Collection of the Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, was involved during its preparation.

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Correspondence to V. R. Alekseev.

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Statement on the welfare of animals. All the applicable international, national, and/or institutional principles for using animals in experiments and conditions for their maintenance were satisfied. This study did not involve humans as subjects.

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Alekseev, V.R. Study of the Biological Dormancy of Aquatic Organisms in Open Space and Space Flight Conditions. Biol Bull Russ Acad Sci 48, 641–661 (2021).

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  • diapause
  • space flight factors
  • ISS
  • interplanetary quarantine
  • astrobiology
  • hydrobiology
  • microgravity
  • cosmic radiation
  • ultraviolet light
  • magnetic field
  • temperature effect
  • search for extraterrestrial life forms