Monthly Archive: January 2015

Animal protein: quality over quantity

In the second half of the 20th century the global consumption of meat increased fivefold, from 45 million tonnes consumed in 1950 to 250 million tonnes nowadays. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates meat consumption is expected to double by 2050.

Today, in industrialized countries people consume an average of 224 g of meat per capita per day (over 81 kg per person per year) compared to an average of 30 g (almost 11 kg of meat a year per person) consumed in Africa.

Figures related to the animals slaughtered each year are exorbitant. 58 000 million chickens are slaughtered annually worldwide, 11 000 million in China and 9000 million in the United States alone. If you take other species into account, the numbers are still high: 1383 million pigs; 517 million sheep; 430 million goats; 296 million cows… In recent years, the consumption of meat has increased in China, India and most countries where a new middle class is emerging coupled with demographic growth.

Increased worldwide demand results in a massive growth of industrial production of meat and, therefore, concentration of power in the hands of a few large companies that can meet market demand. This transformation of the livestock sector and meat production has a long series of negative consequences on the environment, animal welfare, social equality as well as the health and quality of human life.

Everyone can contribute to improve the situation and change this trend however. For example you can: consume less meat; buy better quality; vary the species and races of animals you eat; choose different cuts; be wary of low prices; favour meat from locally-bred animals and avoid imported products as much as possible; learn to read product labels; consider animal welfare; ; be curious and ask your butcher for more information or visit a farm to see how animals are raised.

Finally remember that giving up some things often has an up-side: eating less meat is not a punishment, your health will benefit and so will the environment and animal welfare. “Replace” meat with tasty, seasonal food  and you will not even miss it!

Silvia Ceriani

For years, Slow Food is trying to raise awareness among consumers about eating better quality and less meat. This year, from 4 to 6 June, the international event Slow Meat will be held in Denver on this subject (, it is organised by Slow Food USA. To know more about Slow Food, click here: (

It's rocket fuel | Protein and muscles


Protein synthesis

The term protein synthesis refers to the biochemical process through which the genetic information in DNA is converted into proteins that perform biological functions in the body. A process called transcription froms a strand of messenger RNA from DNA  as a mold for the production of a protein. Protein synthesis is part of a complex series of metabolic reactions that, by consuming energy, form complex molecules from simpler ones to repair and rebuild damaged tissues. The opposite reactions that degrade complex molecules thereby releasing energy are called catabolic. Metabolism is characterized by a continuous succession of catabolic and anabolic reactions which vary depending on age, nutrition and environment . Because our bodies synthesis protein in a  regular and orderly manner it is necessary to provide the body with sufficient amounts of raw material, that is to say, dietary protein that will provide the necessary amino acids to turn into proteins. The amount of dietary protein varies according to the level of physical activity, and ranges from a minimum of 0.8 g per kg body weight for a sedentary person, up to 2 g for fit and powerful athletes. Furthermore, anabolic reactions are regulated by a number of hormones including insulin, growth hormone and testosterone which are influenced by food intake, type of physical activity and by the time between activity and recovery. During a long space mission it is essential to continue stimulating  protein synthesis to minimize catabolic reactions that load the muscle and bones. A balanced diet that ensures enough protein and a daily exercise program that offers intensive use of muscles with special tools to simulate weight training, logically impossible in orbit.

Dr. Filippo Ongaro

Read more:

Not rocket science | Protein and muscles


More “muscles”, more life

When it comes to muscles people often think of the sculpted bodies of athletes or bodybuilders.

But muscles are necessary to us all, just as the heart, brain, skin and bones, and we all have them. Few people know however, that after the age of 35, our muscle mass will decrease by  up to 1% each year. Once you reach the age of 75 years old if nothing is done to slow this process, you may find yourself with 40% less muscle mass! This muscle loss causes a loss of strength and autonomy that iss very often the basis of the downward spiral that leads to frailty of old-age that is marked by weakness, loss of balance and difficulty leaving home. In turn this can lead to psychological changes that lead to isolation and consequently even the slowing down of cognitive functions. Muscles health is not the only factor of course but remember that strong and healthy muscles help regulate glycaemia, blood pressure and even mood.  Muscles help keep strong bones and this is why they are a central aspect being in good health. There is no need to engage in extreme activities to avoid this downward spiral but make some  space in your weekly routine for some training with weights or resistance bands or a simple workout  coupled with a healthy dose of aerobic activity such as walking, running, swimming or cycling. Remember that to maintain  healthy muscles you need to absorb adequate protein by eating fish, vegetables and lean meats. If working out for cosmetic reasons is not your thing, before you dismiss exercise outright, remember that more muscle equals longer life. Dr. Filippo Ongaro to learn more: In the cover image: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet training on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Columbia Center, 16 September 2014.

Challenge | Protein and muscles


The return of the fruit flies

When my Boss told me a few months ago to “Go and interview them,” I could not believe it. “Are you serious?” I replied. “You want me to interview those…” But she had already looked away, bored. Go and interview them: that is all I had to do. Who was I supposed to interview? The umpteenth interview with an astronaut? Samantha Cristoforetti? A flight controller at Columbus-Control Centre? An interview with Stefano Polato or Filippo Ongaro? Nah. No, the Boss had asked me to interview those tiny, pretentious, horrible fruit flies. “Soon they will be the real stars of space,” she said as I left. She was right. Perhaps that is why she is the Boss. As I am a serious reporter and I deliver to the Boss and here is the full transcript our interview: Houston, 07/01/2014 Why the silence and the sceptical look? Dear fruit flies, the interviewer should be the one to ask the first question, not you. Don’t you think? Yes but you have been staring at us for the last fifteen minutes. Don’t you think we do have something better to do seeing as we only live for a couple of weeks? With all due respect, I expected to interview someone a bit more … A bit more…? A bit more … with all due respect …. a little more important, more intellectually stimulating.… Look, let’s start with the questions please, we only have five minutes before our interview with the BBC, CNN and Rai news. We do hope they sent someone a bit brighter. Listen … the first question I prepared, I do not know if you will like it … So here goes …  my question is the following… Go, come on, hurry up! So: you are just fruit flies, little limp creatures, and as your name implies, rather insignificant. You buzz around fruit, you leave larvae behind, and you ruin the fruit for the rest of us. As far as I know only mosquitoes are worse than you. So I ask myself: why would anyone want you on the Space Station? We definitely set off on the wrong foot here! For a start, we have already participated in various missions on NASA’s Space Shuttles and our scientific name is Drosophila melanogaster. What’s your name? Stefano Sandrelli … There you go, just appreciate the difference! Drosophila melanogaster: sounds a bit better, right? A tad more noble, n’est-ce pas?. And if you were not so ignorant, you would know that for years we provide invaluable knowledge to the humans that study us. In fact, we are very renowned fruit flies in research and considered a “model organism”. And what does a “model organism” mean? It means that we are easy to breed, we reproduce in larger quantities than rabbits, our DNA has been known for over 20 years, we have only four pairs of chromosomes and, as if that is not enough, our genetic code is similar to human’s, especially with regard to the transmission of diseases. Approximately 77% of the genes carrying diseases in humans have an analogue in our genome: Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and so on. fruit flies for twitterThen it means you are useless since we already know about these diseases in humans, what is your purpose? Look, try switching on your brain, please. Scientists know about the genetic diseases of humans, but it is difficult to study the genetic transmission of a disease as it spans the lifetime of a human being, around 70-80 years. We  reproduce very fast: our life spans a couple of your weeks and each female lays around 600 eggs. Get where we are going? Our genome is transmitted in real-time, “live” in front of scientists eyes, to many descendants. From your reaction it seems as though you still do not get it, do you? But how many are going to space? We start with a little more than 100. It is the mechanism of genetic transmission that interests scientists, understand? And we show it to them, generation after generation. But why on the International Space Station? Because there is no gravity up there. And gravity could be an important part of genetic transmission. Our scientists have created a beautiful experiment! Tell me more … how does it work? The Fruit Lab System has three components: a small housing compartment in which we launch. A second compartment is where we live and get fed and where our larvae are extracted. What do the astronauts do with your larvae? Do they eat them? Are you fresh food? What??? Where do you come from? The larvae are stored in a refrigerator called MELFI where our offspring are preserved and brought back to Earth for further study. There is a third housing compartment, where we can fly freely, assuming we are not affected by weightlessness too much. Here scientists mounted a camera to watch us 24 hours a day. A sort of Big Brother for fruit flies. A number of us live in weightlessness while others live in a small centrifuge to simulate Earth’s gravity. The larvae we produce are frozen, brought back to earth and studied. Are you really convinced that something interesting for mankind may come out of this? Of course, this is what we aim for and the scientists whom we are trying to help. We have been helping humans to understand how their bodies function for over a century!   If you want to educate yourself, we have a dedicated blog on this experiment: And Samantha Cristoforetti talked about it in her blog entry: Featuring in the cover image: The habitat for astro fruit flies created especially for studies in microgravity. Credits: NASA-Dominic Hart

Stefano Sandrelli

Don't panic


Yesterday’s motto: don’t panic!

In the photo: astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti during an emergency simulation.

Don’t panic is written in large letters across the Hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy in Douglas Adam’s novel of the same name. Don’t panic was also our motto yesterday in the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany as well as in the International Space Station control centres in Houston, Moscow and Tsukuba, Japan.

At 9:44 CET an emergency alarm was triggered on the International Space Station that implied ammonia from the external cooling circuit could have leaked into its interior. Following emergency protocol the astronauts quickly went to the Russian part of the Station as no ammonia is used for the cooling circuits in those modules. The astronauts could see from air measurements that they were perfectly safe in the Russian segment.

From the start there was some doubt as to whether ammonia really was leaked but for safety the crew was told to stay in the Russian segment while the situation was analyzed in detail. The astronauts were fast to inform us that they were fine: Samantha tweeted to the world: “Thanks for your concern, we are all doing well!” In this type of emergency the external ammonia cooling circuit is quickly shut down and working pressure is reduced to prevent further inflow of toxic gas to the modules. Yesterday the ammonia loop B was shut down meaning half the cooling performance of the Space Station was no longer available. The Columbus Control Centre had to partially shut down the Columbus space laboratory to reduce heat production. While the astronauts waited for the call to reopen the hatch, the control centers were busy trying to get a first idea of what was happening and adapt the Station’s configuration to the new situation. While we were doing this experts were called in to find out why the emergency alarm sounded. In the afternoon we came to the conclusion that the reported measurements that triggered the alarm could not be trusted. Detailed analysis based on other measurements indicated a computer problem and not a real emergency scenario. In the evening the crew was given a “Go” to enter the American part of the Space Station wearing gas masks and take measurements – no ammonia was detected. At around 21:00 CET the astronauts opened the hatch and could sleep in the American part of the station. Although the danger was a false alarm the B Loop is still shut down – we do not want to rush things but bring the Station slowly back to full operations from its present configuration. The emergency has evolved into a scheduling problem for us as we try to readjust the schedule to make up for the lost time.

In a way the situation happened at the best possible time. The astronauts were just about to set up experiments with living fruit flies and other biological experiments. These experiments would have failed if they had left them alone during their time in the Russian segment. ‘Luckily’ the alarm was triggered just before they started so the experiments will be able to run safely in the near future.

The experiments and hardware in the Columbus laboratory seems to have survived the emergency power down as well. Tomorrow we think Samantha and Terry will be able to conduct the first session of the Airway Monitoring experiment as planned despite yesterday’s problems.

In conclusion: if there really had been an ammonia leak, the astronauts and control centres had the situation fully under control. But this is a reminder to us all of the importance of training for emergencies over and over again and to play them out in our minds, so when they happen we don’t panic

Thomas Uhlig, Columbus Flight Director

Original blog post (in German):

Don't panic