U.S. scientists levitate mice to study low gravity

LOS ANGELES Fri Sep 11, 2009 8:23am EDT

A lab mouse is shown inside a levitation device at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Scientists at JPL say they have succeeded in levitating mice, a feat that they say could lead to advances in treating bone loss for astronauts living for extended periods in low gravity environments. REUTERS/JPL/Handout

A lab mouse is shown inside a levitation device at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Scientists at JPL say they have succeeded in levitating mice, a feat that they say could lead to advances in treating bone loss for astronauts living for extended periods in low gravity environments.

Credit: Reuters/JPL/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have succeeded in levitating mice, a feat that they say could lead to advances in treating bone loss for astronauts living for extended periods in low gravity environments.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist Yuanming Liu said in an interview on Thursday that the mice were levitated using a device called a no gravity simulator, which is powered by a superconducting gradient magnet.

"The reason we want to levitate mice is we are aware of the situation that astronauts who stay in micro-gravity environments long enough might lose some bone mass," Liu told Reuters.

"By levitating mice we can simulate similar conditions and we can study whether bone loss will actually occur in mice, and that will help us understand more about the bone loss that might occur in astronauts," he said.

Liu said the second stage of experimentation will involve having the mice live in the levitator for a week or longer to see what physical effects result.

"We first tried a fully conscious mouse and he didn't like it very much, he started to spin and got disoriented," Liu said.

"Mice like to grab onto something and so by just floating in the air it's really different for (the mouse) to adjust to," he said.

A second experiment was conducted with a mouse that had been partially sedated by a veterinarian, and that rodent calmed down considerably as he floated in the air.

According to a paper published by Liu and his colleagues, under repeated levitation even mice that were not sedated began acting normally inside the special cage, eating and drinking while they floated off the surface.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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