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Biology student at the University of Navarra at final stage of a European Space Agency award programme

Antonio Leyte's proposal attempts to analyse an essential structure for the axes of symmetry of the body

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FOTO: Manuel Castells
09/03/07 12:33 Mª Pilar Huarte

Antonio Leyte, a 4th year Biology student at the University of Navarra, recently attended the award ceremony of the European Space Agency (ESA) "Success" programme, held in Cologne, Germany. After successfully passing the first stage, in which 5000 participants presented some 2000 pieces of research, his study on the distribution of human organs in places without gravity, together with 49 other submissions, went on to compete for first place. The prize consists of a one-year scholarship at the ESA space engineering centre in Holland, in order to prepare for official approvals and finalise the details of the launching.

In concrete, Antonio Leyte's proposal attempts to analyse - in mice- an essential structure for the axes of symmetry of the body and the lack of which cause serious ailments such as the Kartagener syndrome, involving an incorrect layout of organs in humans.

In this way, under microgravity conditions, he will examine the progress of limb formation and the arrangement of organs during the initial stages of the embryo formation of these animals.

Reproduction and development of mammals

Apart from this syndrome, his work could contribute to another ambitious goal -to understand how Space environment affects the key stages of reproduction and development in mammals and helps to maintain life beyond Earth in space stations and on other planets.

Amongst other techniques, the student will employ magnetic resonance (which enables the viewing of sections of objects without having to expose them to radiation), immunofluorescence systems or DNA (biochips) microarrays - a state-of-the-art tool for comparing gene expression.

With the "Success" programme, the European Space Agency aims to initiate university students from member countries of the organisation to space research; in fields such as the observation of the Earth, physics and life sciences The competition seeks to select one of the projects designed by young researchers in order to send it to the International Space Station –the largest satellite to be built so far. Although it will take a few years to finalise the Station, it is currently available as a laboratory with unique features: it does not have gravity, it has a view of the entire planet and enables direct viewing of the stars without interference by the atmosphere.