Bulked-up, mutant “mighty mice” held onto their muscle during a monthlong stay at the International Space Station, returning to Earth with ripped bodybuilder physiques, scientists reported Monday.
The findings hold promise for preventing muscle and bone loss in astronauts on prolonged space trips like Mars missions, as well as people on Earth who are confined to bed or need wheelchairs.
A research team led by Dr. Se-Jin Lee of the Jackson Laboratory in Connecticut sent 40 young female black mice to the space station in December, launching aboard a SpaceX rocket.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lee said the 24 regular untreated mice lost considerable muscle and bone mass in weightlessness as expected — up to 18%.
But the eight genetically engineered “mighty mice” launched with double the muscle maintained their bulk. Their muscles appeared to be comparable to similar “mighty mice” that stayed behind at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
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In addition, eight normal mice that received “mighty mouse” treatment in space returned to Earth with dramatically bigger muscles. The treatment involves blocking a pair of proteins that typically limit muscle mass.
A SpaceX capsule brought all 40 mice back in good condition, parachuting into the Pacific off the California coast in January. Some of the ordinary mice were injected with the “mighty mice” drug after returning and quickly built up more muscle than their untreated companions, Lee said.
The scientists completed the experiment just as the coronavirus was hitting the U.S.
“The only silver lining of COVID is that we had time to write it up very intensively” and submit the results for publication, said Dr. Emily Germain-Lee of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Lee’s wife who also took part in the study. Both are affiliated with the University of Connecticut.
While encouraged by their findings, the couple said much more work needs to be done before testing the drug on people to build up muscle and bone, without serious side effects.
“We’re years away. But that’s how everything is when you go from mouse to human studies,” Germain-Lee said.
Lee said the experiment pointed out other molecules and signaling pathways worth investigating — “an embarrassment of riches … so many things we’d like to pursue.” His next step: possibly sending more “mighty mice” to the space station for an even longer stay.
Three NASA astronauts looked after the space mice, performing body scans and injections: Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who performed the first all-female spacewalk last fall, and Andrew Morgan. They are listed as co-authors.
Fred Willard, the prolific and beloved comic actor and master of the mockumentary genre who stood out in ensemble comedies like Best in Show, For Your Consideration andThis Is Spinal Tap, died Friday at the age of 86.
Willard’s rep Glenn Schwartz confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause of death was natural causes. Willard’s daughter Hope Mulbarger said in a statement, “My father passed away very peacefully last night at the fantastic age of 86 years old. He kept moving, working and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much! We will miss him forever.”
Jamie Lee Curtis, wife of Willard’s longtime director Christopher Guest, first shared news of the actor’s death. “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts,” Curtis tweeted. “He is with his missed Mary now. Thanks for the deep belly laughs Mr. Willard.” Willard’s wife of 40 years, Mary, died in 2018.
“A four-time Emmy nominee radiated a unique charm that established him as one of our generation’s most gifted comic actors,” Willard’s rep wrote in a tribute. “A master of sketch comedy, Fred was most heralded for his quick wit and improvisational expertise, which he demonstrated in hundreds of appearances on stage, on the big screen, and on a wide range of television shows.”
Willard is best known for his work in Guest’s comedies — Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration and A Mighty Wind — as well as scene-stealing moments in This Is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, Austin Powers and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
“What a deep and unabiding loss,” Ed Begley Jr., who appeared with Willard in six Guest films, said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “Having spent countless hours onstage, on camera and in the home of this friend and genius, I won’t adjust to this loss any time soon. See you on the back lot, Fred. Sorry for all the jokes I stole.”
“Whenever Fred was improvising on set, we’d crowd around the monitors to watch and squeeze each other to hold in our laughter,” Parker Posey, who starred with Willard in five Guest movies, said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “Acting with someone so brilliantly funny was exhilarating and we all revered and loved him.”
A veteran of the stage and sketch comedy, the Shaker Heights, Ohio-born Willard made his big-screen debut in a little-seen 1967 film titled Teenage Mother. After a decade of bit parts, Willard landed a role on the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spinoff Fernwood 2 Night in 1977 as announcer Jerry Hubbard to Martin Mull’s Barth Gimble.
“Fred Willard was truly one of a kind,” Mull said in a statement. “He, like no other, could literally take my breath away with his spontaneous originality. I have often said that acting with Fred is like following someone who refuses to use their turn-signals. Always a glorious adventure. He’s irreplaceable and I will miss the great warmth and kindness of his friendship.”
Willard’s work with Guest first began in 1984 when the two appeared onscreen together in Rob Reiner’s groundbreaking mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap in a scene where Willard’s Air Force lieutenant gives Spinal Tap, including Guest’s Nigel Tufnel, a tour of the military base. “Just about the funniest human ever to walk the planet,” This Is Spinal Tap co-star Harry Shearer tweeted. “An amazing talent, in telekinetic contact with the very wellspring of comedy.” Guest would later cast Willard in prominent roles in five mockumentaries he helmed, most recently 2016’s Mascots.
“Fred was the kindest, gentlest funniest man I’ve ever worked with,” Willard’s frequent co-star Bob Balaban said in a statement. “His wit knew no bounds. He didn’t do jokes. He made ‘ordinary’ funny and every word I ever heard him utter on- or off-camera was always unsparingly true.”
With hundreds of credits over an acting career that spanned over 50 years, Willard built a reputation where he could pop up in any setting — sitcoms (New Girl, Community, Modern Family), cartoons, late-night TV, offbeat comedies (Tim & Eric, Comedy Bang! Bang!, I Think You Should Leave), reality television (The Bachelor and The Bachelorette), game shows, commercials, even soap operas (an Emmy-nominated turn on The Bold and the Beautiful) — and it was not out of character.
“You will always be a true original and I am so honored that our lives intersected. No one will ever come close to replacing your genius,” Willard’s Modern Family co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson tweeted.
Willard will appear posthumously in the upcoming Netflix satirical series Space Force; a testament to his enormous filmography, Willard previously starred in an unrelated 1978 TV movie also titled Space Force, which he lampooned in a 2019 Jimmy Kimmel Live sketch. Kimmel tweeted Saturday, “There was no man sweeter or funnier. We were so lucky to know Fred Willard and will miss his many visits.” Willard was a beloved guest on late-night; in addition to his many Kimmel cameos, a compilation of Willard’s frequent visits to David Letterman’s shows runs for nearly three hours.
“Fred donated a great deal of his time to charitable endeavors,” his rep added. “For his work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, City of Hope, and Actors and Others for Animals, he received a commendation from the City of Los Angeles, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised him for ‘outstanding humanitarian and philanthropic work.’”
“Fred Willard was the funniest person that I’ve ever worked with,” Steve Carell, Willard’s cast mate in Anchorman and Space Force, tweeted Saturday. “He was a sweet, wonderful man.”
I’m at a loss for words, a state Fred Willard never found himself in. My friend for 40+ years, a great comic actor who had no competition because there was only one of him. We were all so lucky. Goodbye, Fred.