On its historic final journey, the space shuttle "Endeavour" has taken a freckled little Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes) where no squid has gone before. (Photo by Nick Hobgood from Wikipedia Commons)
The idea is to study the response to life in space by a bacteria that part of the squid's natural payload. Will it go all "Deep Blue Sea" on experimenters, like Salmonella did, or at least get altered, like E. coli did?
"New Scientist" explains:
...Jamie Foster of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who is running the experiment, puts it: "Do good bacteria go bad?"Foster has arranged to send up the bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes, a Pacific species that carries a cargo of bacteria called Vibrio fischeri in its body. The microbes colonise young squid soon after the squid hatch and set up home in their light organs. The squid use the bacteria to generate light, which they shine downwards to ensure they don't cast a visible shadow.
Unbeknownst to the cephalonaut, it's being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for science:
Foster's experiment is simple. Newly hatched squid that have not yet encountered their bacterial partners will go up to orbit in tubes of seawater. 14 hours after launch, an astronaut will add the bacteria and give them 28 hours to colonise the squid. Then the squid will be killed and fixed solid, and brought back to Earth for examination.
It's just the latest way in which cephalopods are helping unravel the mysteries of life, a topic to which I'll surely return in a future post.