Just behind the juvenile herring’s large eye is the bony round shaped otolith structure. Cosmonauts prepare for space missions using the buoyancy of water as a simple scenario of reduced gravity to practice extra vehicular activity ( EVA) for space suit procedures outside their space craft. The little herring can be compared to a cosmonaut since both have something in common: a built-in navigation positioning sensing system. Each aquatic species positioning their bodies when moving around their water environment, knows intuitively where they are in 3-dimensional space. Both species, man and herring share specialized micro-accelerometers that sense the direction of gravity within their vestibular apparatus, even the one sixth gravity of sea water. Yet the herring’ s evolutionary heritage strongly pre-dates man’s vestibular system by over a few hundred million years. The little herring’s otolith is essentially frozen in time. Surprisingly, the vestibular system drives by pacing the autonomic system, not the other way around. Think of this very ancient herring’s otolith as the first priority within a hierarchy design of signalling language code. I look at our heritage from the vestibular system as a series of built upon senses that arrived in an ordered fashion, such that the vestibular code paces the autonomic system as it developed as first priority in evolution’s step by step progression. Just like how man has built the Internet during its inception during the ‘sixties, old computer code still runs at the core of current Internet messaging. Where do you see such subtle ancient priority presenting itself within Nature? When a cosmonaut returns from a very long space flight in terms of microgravity exposure, the cosmonaut’s cardiovascular system is aberrant, acting out of sync to the return to the gravity vector on Earth of 1-G. All cosmonauts after space flight can not stand up, their changing of body position causes them to faint immediately. In the science language of the returned cosmonauts they suffer orthostatic intolerance. During the entire space flight the core signalling within vestibular networks without a one gravity vector acting into the cosmonauts vestibular system literally turns itself off. During their space-flight, all the micro accelerometers that make up the entire component chain into a functioning vestibular apparatus no longer sensed the One-G gravity vector. Sometimes this lack of gravity has completely incapacitated the cosmonauts space-flight into microgravity to the point all he can do is place his head against the Soyuz bulkhead unable to perform any of his assigned tasks, causing the space-flight to be aborted.
What happens in microgravity to totally incapacitate a cosmonaut ? A glimpse of the importance of the vestibular system mapping into our brains can be seen from the report by Fred Previc, Jeremy Beer, Mario Liotti, Colin Blakemore and Peter Fox with their report in The Journal of Vestibular Research 10 (2000) 221-225 entitled Is “ambient vision’ distributed in the brain ? They describe the wide-field of view perspective of visual yaw motion on PET activation. The brain acts on preconscious visual inputs from the periphery that depend on the visual functions that are associated with the maintenance of spatial orientation. To solve the ongoing query: where am I? The human brain orients itself to the gravity vector. These authors comment with, ” These findings provide further evidence that the ambient vision signal is either processed or transmitted throughout the entire brain, as befits a visual function that is fundamental to all other perceptual systems.” In order to grab the magnitude of their observations I will make an analogy. The brain calculates using the entire resources available to it not limited to one specific zone but the entire communication connections throughout the entire brain in the context of mass information processing of the ambient vision input. We have been taught that discreet anatomical zones handle specific tasks within the brain’s anatomical locales. Now here is a process that uses the entire intranet of the brain to accomplish a task. Nature uses the hierarchy of signal processing to accomplish tasks. Sensing both gravity with visual input is at the top of the hierarchy for the reason that this task dominates the entire resources within the brain. It’s like a televised signal that is both listened to and viewed by every single person on Earth at the same time in simultaneous translation.
The fundamental question is how do we see, what is our brain looking at outside of our perception that commands the entire brain to process the visual scene? Is such a brain demand possible to dominate the entire brain network of connections, monopolizing all its resources ? The incredible answer appears to be yes. As we point our bodies in 3-D space our peripheral vision captures out at the periphery of our visual field specific references retrieving all those edge shapes . Giving back the orientation of the Earth’s horizon telling us where we are in the horizontal plane. In microgravity those edge clues felt automatically, are sensed in our otoliths. But there is no down sense. Unlike the little fish knowing its horizontal orientation position along its body confuses the integration of the gravity accelerometers sensing to dissociate the entire brain network. We become lost without those peripheral orienting edges feeding back to us.
“Astronauts who have spent prolonged periods in the zero gravity of space tend to show eye abnormalities linked to pressure around the brain, another study has confirmed.
The new study, which involved magnetic resonance imaging of the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts – a larger sample than previous studies — also found abnormalities in the pituitary gland and its connection to the brain in three cases. The gland, found at the base of the brain, secretes and stores a number of important hormones that regulate growth, metabolism and reproduction.
The findings, published online in the journal Radiology on Tuesday, may point to a “hypothetical risk factor and potential limitation to long-duration space travel,” said study co-author Dr. Larry Kramer, a professor of diagnostic and interventional imaging at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, in a statement. That means they could pose a problem on future missions to places such as Mars.
An earlier study on eye problems in astronauts suggested that the issues might be caused by fluid shifting toward the head during extended periods of time in micro gravity. (NASA)
William J. Tarver, chief of the flight medicine clinic at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a statement that the U.S. space agency has “placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a comprehensive program to study its mechanisms and implications, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Astronauts have complained for decades about vision problems such as blurriness following trips into space. A recent NASA survey of 300 astronauts found correctable near and distance vision problems in 48 per cent of astronauts who had been on extended missions and 23 per cent of those who had been on brief missions. In some cases, they lasted for years after the astronauts returned to Earth.
Fluid shifting toward head causes problems
In the new study, the astronauts had spent an average of 108 days in space. Their eye abnormalities were similar to those seen in patients on Earth with idiopathic intracranial hypertension. Patients with the condition have increased pressure around their brains for no apparent reason.
Among the astronauts in the study:
- 33 per cent had expansion of the space filled with cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain.
- 22 per cent had flattening of the rear of the eyeball.
- 15 per cent had bulging of the optic nerve.
- 11 per cent had changes in the pituitary gland and its connection to the brain.
An earlier NASA-sponsored study of seven astronauts, published last November in the journal Ophthalmology, found similar abnormalities and also noted that they were similar to those experienced by patients on Earth suffering from pressure in the head. But it noted that astronauts did not experience symptoms usually associated with that problem on Earth, such as chronic headache, double vision or ringing in the ears.
The earlier study suggested that the problems might be caused by fluid shifting toward the head during extended periods of time in microgravity. This could result in abnormal flow of spinal fluid around the optic nerve, changes in blood flow in the vessels at the back of the eye, or chronic low pressure within the eye, the researchers said.” CBC on-line story: Space Flight Linked to Eye-Brain Problems posted March 13, 2012
What links within the brain circuits the eyes, the cardiovascular system, to the bone system and the pituitary gland ? What network can influence such a diverse grouping of effects ? The link is the positional sense of gravity felt as a register of direction into all cells. Let’s pull back from that last statement, let’s pull back to the view of Earth from the Moon.
Until we experienced the view of our own planet from space our limited context could not begin to take the concept of Gaia, of how perhaps our plant was a symbiotic life form on its own. The concept of Gaia was introduced by James Lovelock, a planetary biologist working at the Jet propulsion Laboratory in California. Lovelock was posing the question to if we are to study other planets, can we make any assessment for the detection of life on these other planets by measuring something of significance ? What do we look for on the planet view of scale ? What can link everything? Is there something common with all scales of life. Does evolution give us this answer ? Is it possible that gravity is that unifying link between everything biological? Let’s dwell on that particular observation. What is the evidence a sceptic might ask ?
“It is at least not impossible to regard the earth’s parts—soil, mountains, rivers, atmosphere etc,—as organs or parts of organs of a coordinated whole, each part with its definite function. And if we could see this whole, as a whole, through a great period of time, we might perceive not only organs with coordinated functions, but possibly also that process of consumption as replacement which in biology we call metabolism, or growth. In such case we would have all the visible attributes of a living thing, which we do not realize to be such because it is too big, and its life processes too slow.”Stephan Harding, Animate Earth
“James Lovelock started defining the idea of a self-regulating Earth controlled by the community of living organisms in September 1965, while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California on methods of detecting life on Mars. The first paper to mention it was Planetary Atmospheres: Compositional and other Changes Associated with the Presence of Life, co-authored with C.E. Giffin. A main concept was that life could be detected in a planetary scale by the chemical composition of the atmosphere. According to the data gathered by the Pic du Midi Observatory, planets like Mars or Venus had atmospheres in chemical equilibrium. This difference with the Earth atmosphere was considered to be a proof that there was no life in these planets.”
“Lovelock formulated the Gaia Hypothesis in journal articles in the 1970s followed by a popularizing 1979 book Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Until 1975 the hypothesis was almost totally ignored. An article in the New Scientist of February 15, 1975, and a popular book length version of the hypothesis, published in 1979 asThe Quest for Gaia, began to attract scientific and critical attention. Lovelock called it first the Earth feedback hypothesis, and it was a way to explain the fact that combinations of chemicals including oxygen and methane and persist in stable concentrations in the atmosphere of the Earth. Lovelock suggested detecting such combinations in other planets’ atmospheres as a relatively reliable and cheap way to detect life.”
The response from the perspective of seeing our planet from space is to begin seeing our own cooperative inner metabolism as if it were an entire planet. We have to start seeing our entire body as an expression to the omnipresence of gravity.
“Later, other relationships such as sea creatures producing sulfur and iodine in approximately the same quantities as required by land creatures emerged and helped bolster the theory.In 1971 microbiologist, Dr.Lynn Margulis joined Lovelock in the effort of fleshing out the initial hypothesis into scientifically proven concepts, contributing her knowledge about how microbes affect the atmosphere and the different layers in the surface of the planet. The American biologist had also awakened criticism from the scientific community with her theory on the origin of eukaryotic organelles and her contributions to the endosymbiotic theory, which nowadays is accepted. Margulis dedicated the last of eight chapters in her book, The Symbiotic Planet, to Gaia. However, she objected to the widespread personification of Gaia and stressed that Gaia is “not an organism”, but “an emergent property of interaction among organisms”. She defined Gaia as “the series of interacting ecosystems that compose a single huge ecosystem at the Earth’s surface. Period”. Yet still she argues, “the surface of the planet behaves as a physiological system in certain limited ways”. Margulis seems to agree with Lovelock in that, in what comes to these physiological processes, the Earth’s surface is “best regarded as alive”. The book’s most memorable “slogan” was actually quipped by a student of Margulis’: “Gaia is just symbiosis as seen from space”. This neatly connects Gaia theory to Margulis’ own theory of endosymbiosis. ”
The picture of the tumbling cosmonaut is symbolic of our rupture from the perspective of seeing the cosmonaut from a larger scale both of time plus distance. The tumbling image is appropriate since the cosmonaut is outside of the Earth’s gravitational effects. But his entire metabolism communication is ruptured, his gravity vector has reduced into 1% of its mega influence. Therefore his metabolism output will adjust as it needs toward the new significantly reduced gravity vector. To deny this effect is simply an arrogance of a magnitude that defines the human ego. Everything revolves around us is our usual perspective. Yet within the context of larger timescales, like our own galaxy diameter, in terms of light years between other galaxies our self view shrinks into nothingness. The perspective of micro-gravity as just an anomaly in our own humble attempts at space travel is grossly flawed. We must bring gravity with us, gravity is the life of our life shape interactions. We must create our own gravity field, the easiest way by rotation of the crew cabins. Otherwise, we will have to deal with a general system failure, reported as ‘space eyes’, bone loss, cardiac intolerance, pituitary hormone deficiencies plus a host of other metabolic changes we are not even aware of, let alone have measured.
“James Lovelock called his first proposal the Gaia hypothesis but has also used the term Gaia theory. Lovelock states that the initial formulation was based on observation, but still lacked a scientific explanation. The Gaia Hypothesis has since been supported by a number of scientific experiments and provided a number of useful predictions. In fact, wider research proved the original hypothesis wrong, in the sense that it is not life alone but the whole Earth system that does the regulating.”
Gravity is our human regulator, gravity is our own personal Gaia that regulates the whole metabolic system within each of us. What is the evidence that gravity is on the driving force for evolution? I will cite from Protoplasm (2006) 229: 143-148 by authors D. Volkmann and F. Baluska Gravity: One of the driving forces for evolution.
Life on Earth in its present diversity and complexity has developed under constantly changing conditions.The gravitational force, however, is one of the most constant factors guiding and affecting the evolution of all organisms.” In Earth’s panorama of changes, major pivoting points have transformed life’s choices all along the way. These transitions are spread over time yet each point of transfer can be reflected upon. One such mega transition is going from a mainly nitrogen atmosphere into a partially oxygen atmosphere. The transition from a dry planet into a wet planet with oceans of water occurred over geological time scales. Yet down under the super compressive depths of the earth’s crust thermal events afforded more opportunities for biochemical interactions to bring about the conditions of early life forms to thrive, learning the critical steps for survival from one generation into another. Life took its first steps onto land to introduce land based physiology after its early water based segment had run its pace. Behind all of these major transition deflections the essence of cellular architecture plays out in the actual assembly rules that determine the basic building blocks of construction. Different problems of adaptation can be formed depending on the nature of environmental surroundings provided by water versus land for producing organismal diversity, with mutations then selection pressures responding to the dynamic changes.
“There are several analogies between the extracellular matrices of land-living plants and animals concerning their composition, their mechanical characteristics, and probably also their formation. The main component of bones is collagen, which is the most abundant protein in animals. Interestingly, collagen-like proteins have also been detected in plant cell walls. The plant cell walls are also sensitive to collagenase treatments. Importantly, collagen is rich in proline, as are all cell proteins. further structural components of animal extracellular matrices are carbohydrates, such as hyaluronic acid, keratan sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. The most important constituents, however, are the inorganic materials that act as a basis for bone mineralisation, hydroxylapatite, (a complex of calcium phosphate), calcium carbonate and calcium silicate. Again, depending on the relative amounts of collagen and hydroxylapatite, the mechanical characteristics of the composite are analogous to either elastic glass fibers or to noncompressible ferro-concrete. In bones, the proteinaceous collagen fibres act against tension, whereas mineralization by inorganic materials prevents compression. As in plant lignification, mineralization occurs mainly at sits of high mechanical load. The density of bones, based mainly on the level of mineral deposits (which is mineralization) correlates positively with the mechanical load. ”
In micro-gravity there is no force of mechanical load as gravity is no longer the vector down pointing, orienting the force, now the orientation is everywhere. Mineral depositing now has no place to load the elastic concrete in terms of position of need. The counter-balance of bone metabolism, remodeling behaviour takes over. Force sensed stress needs are no longer addressed as the bones get progressively weaker in terms of handling the non-existent strain.
“On the basis of the many analogies found in plants and animals concerning the antigravitational material, it is reasonable to seek possible common mechanisms that might have evolved under the constant influence of gravitational force, in particular after leaving water and colonizing the land.”
“Donald Ingber, developed a theory of cellular mechanochemistry for cell cultures which he called the tensegrity concept.” (Not to be difficult, I have used the historical reference to Kenneth Snelson who first invented in 1948 the artistic idea of suspended tendons of metal as a student of Buckminister Fuller, who coined the term tensegrity, tensional integrity. In honor of Snelson’s break-through I prefer the concept which Snelson employs in his terminology as, floating tension. Personally I find the concept of floating tension as a concept of dispersive balancing within a suspension web as more descriptive. Essentially the term tensegrity is interchangeable with floating tension.)
Just like the skeleton of cells.
“The main components of Ingber’s concept are adhesion domains composed of integral membrane proteins, i.e. integrins, which are located in the plasma membrane surrounding cells, associated proteins at the peripheral cytoplasm just outside the cell, and interconnected cytoskeletal proteins extending into the cell interior, such as microtubules, intermediate and actin filaments, and the motor proteins kinesin and myosin. Changes in tension and/or compression at the plasma membrane domains induced by external forces like gravity or other mechanical forces may unbalance the floating tension forces of the cell to trigger mechanotransduction chains via the focal adhesion kinase-extracellular signal regulated protein kinase or the adenylate cyclase protein kinase A pathways, according to Ingber’s concept.”
Floating tension is studied at Harvard University, the Wyss Institute, which cell biologist Donald Ingber created, outlines the connection between floating tension inside a cell’s skeleton. “Cells have skeletons. They’re not made of calcium like the bones that rattle on Halloween. Cell skeletons – biologists call them cytoskeletons – consist of protein molecules arranged into chains. Cytoskeletons give cells their shape, help cells move, and hold the nucleus in place.”
Like Snelson’s (floating tension) sculptures, cytoskeletons have tensegrity – short for tensional integrity. They balance compression with tension, and yield to forces without breaking. In the Needle Tower, the wires carry tension and the rods bear compression. In a cytoskeleton, protein chains – some thin, some thick and some hollow – take the place of wires and rods. Linked together they form a stable, but flexible, structure.
NASA is interested in cytoskeletons because cytoskeletons respond to gravity. Weight can provide both tension and compression. But what happens (during space travel, for example) when weight vanishes? Do cells behave differently when their cytoskeletons relax?
Ingber and his colleagues have shown that when integrins move, the cytoskeleton stiffens. They did it by coating small magnetic beads, about 1 to 10 microns in size, with special molecules that bind to integrins. They attached the beads to the integrins and then applied a magnetic field.
“The beads turned and tried to align with the field, just like a compass needle would want to align with the earth’s magnetic field,” explains Ingber. The beads twisted the integrins and, in turn, tweaked the cytoskeleton. As more stress was applied, the cytoskeleton became stiffer and stiffer. In fact, it become so stiff that the beads couldn’t be turned much past a few degrees!
Tugging on integrins not only caused the cytoskeleton to stiffen, it also activated certain genes. “Activating a gene” means coaxing a gene to generate RNA and proteins. That’s important because proteins are little messages that signal the cell to take action. Tickling the cytoskeleton, it seems, can make cells switch between different genetic programs.
Says Ingber: “Mechanical restructuring of the cell and cytoskeleton apparently tells the cell what to do.”
Very flat cells with taut cytoskeletons somehow sense that more cells are needed – to cover a cut, for example. Rounder, cramped cells might sense an overpopulation problem and decide it’s time to die and make room for others. In either case, they are responding to a control system in which the shape-shifting cytoskeleton serves as a switching mechanism.” sourced from NASA ‘s own descriptions at: Curious Skeletons =Squishy skeletons feel the effects of gravity http://weboflife.nasa.gov/currentResearch/currentResearchBiologyGravity/skeleton.htm
“Plants growing in space under micro-gravity reveal changes at the plasma membrane in the recycling processes employing pectins which depend on the plants actomyosin system. These recycling processes are believed to be a form of information exchange via hormones or transmitter substances through synapse pores seen as vesicular trafficking events, passing cargo from one side of the plasma membrane to the other side. Short-term experiments under the influence of micro-gravity in tobacco pollen tubes indicated endocytosis to be altered during tip growth, occurring with flawed changes of pectin secretion. The balance of transport across the plant cells plasma membrane, the packaging of nutrients to be released, described in the more technical jargon of exocytosis versus endocytosis events are both important for development processes like cytokinesis, cell and organ polarity (orientation) in relation to gravity.”
Combining plants actomyosin-driven recycling processes to Ingber’s floating tension networks concept becomes the following observation. ” Mechanical load is perceived at the plasma membrane via mechanosensitive transmembrane complexes in cooperation with associated proteins, especially cytoskeletal elements. Changes in mechanical load disturb the balance of exocytosis versus endocytosis processes triggering changes in the flux of information-bearing molecules. These changes then instruct the assembly of anti-gravitational molecules and polymers.”
The transition from water species into land species accounts for a 1000 fold increase in the abundance and diversity of land creatures versus water organisms. Despite the perception of water life to a constant gravitational force in the range of 1/1000 g in spite of Earth’s acceleration of 1 g acting constantly since the Earth formed, the density difference between water and air could be the reason for the one thousand fold difference.
In the picture of the floating paper clip are some of the elements hopefully addressed in this essay on gravity. The weight of the paper clip is dispersed across the surface of the water. The water has deflected enough to allow the paper clip to float. The tension lines surrounding the paper clip are deformed as if in a gravity field that behaves in a somewhat analogous fashion of attraction deforming space-time surrounding a sizeable mass interacting with a smaller mass.
The patterns are not evenly spaced around the static outline of the paper clip, they get closer as the tension net increasing especially inside the paper clip. The water has a flow appearance as if it is moving. Of course the water is moving at the level of molecular vibration but we can’t see visually down to that scale in this picture. Floating tension is the attachment within a gravity field of force that can suspend the mass of an object between the compression forces within the water attracting molecules themselves. The paper clip is wet if you were to lift it out of the vessel so there is a deep attraction layer at the interface between the paper clip metal with the water surface. Within this tension water net the paper clip floats but the paper clip is definitely attached along its length into the water. The entire process works because both the water and the paper clip are in an oriented space that permits this kind of deformation of a tension surface. That oriented space is what we loosely invoke describing a gravity field.
The astronaut tales reveal to us the mega significance of gravity at the molecular interface. We are always at this surface of a gravity field influencing all intimate cellular interactions within a time line of evolutionary heritage combining to shape cellular behaviour. There is a mass information effect performing at the speed of Nature’s pace transferring in both directions across all plasma membranes. These same cells are linked into both local with immediate neighbourhoods then into larger boroughs blending into cities of cells within countries of cells. All listening all responding all reacting at lighting speed at the blur of shape changes happening. To begin to understand our real physiology, we must first understand the importance of gravity sensing throughout the entire spectrum within our entire cellular networks. We have to see ourselves as we can be seen from space in a gravity reduced version to begin to understand how gravity itself has shaped our biological evolution.
The final words for this essay were translated from Rossiiski Fiziolgichesii Zhurnal imeni I. M. Sechenova, Vol 89, No 3, pp 280-291, March, 2003 in Neuroscience and Behavioral Physiology; Vol 34, No 8, 2004 The Role of Gravitational-Dependant Systems in Visual Tracking by L. N. Kornilova. Their quoted abstract outlines the dynamic changes that cosmonauts, like Oleg Kotov contribute to a fundamental shift in our appreciation of the hierarchy of control that gravity has created in our sensory perception of the universe around each and everyone of the Earth’s people. Gravity sensing is at the core of our own intranet of signalling, starting at the vestibular sensing, be it the eyes, the beating of the heart or the strength of our bones, the entire system behaves in a Gaia fashion in complete integration within a floating tension cellular framework, a system that is always ‘on’ during our life span.
“The effects of prolonged microgravity conditions on the performance of visual tracking functions such as fixational rotations of the eyes (saccades), smooth tracking of linear and curved movements of a foveal point stimulus, and following a vertical pendulum-like movement of fovealretinal optokinetic stimuli were studied. Experiments were performed on 31 cosmonauts in free fall conditions, in ten cases followed by additional studies after a cycle of head movements and in 14 after resting. These experiments showed that while intrinsic visual functions were retained in microgravity conditions, there were decreases in the precision and speed measures of all types of visual tracking (fixational rotations of the eyes, smooth tracking ). In some cases, complete degradation of the smooth tracking reflex, an increase in the time taken to fix the gaze on a target (by a factor of 2 or more) and decreases in the frequency of stimulus tracking. During the initial period of the adaptation to the altered gravitational conditions and periodically during prolonged spaceflight, the system of smooth visual tracking was found to undergo a transition to a strategy of saccade approximation, in which gaze tracks the movement of the target using a set of macro- or microsaccadic movements. These impairments, seen in virtually all cosmonauts, resulted from the vestibular deprivation (functional deafferentation of the otolith input) in conditions of weightlessness. Cosmonauts conceptualizing space on the basis of perceiving the positions of the feet and head additionally showed support-tactile deprivation.”