The wonders of discovery and a passion for problem solving have propelled geneticist Dr. Ann Rose to the top of her field and her research into outer space. She could not have known, when, as a young girl, she eagerly watched a NASA launch, that she would one day send an experiment into space.
A genetics professor at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Rose traces her choice of field to her keen interest in people. "I was really interested in understanding the genetic context of human behaviour," says Dr. Rose, who studied English, psychology, and neuroscience before earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Simon Fraser University in 1980.
Today, Dr. Rose's research focuses on genetic repair mechanisms using C. elegans, a small worm widely used for genetics research. One highlight in her career was in 2002 when she and her colleagues discovered a new repair function that is important for the prevention of cancer.
Half of the genes in C. elegans have counterparts in human genes. The worm can also mate, reproduce, and develop normally during space flight, making it an ideal subject studying the effects of space travel on living organisms.
On April 19, 2004, the European Space Agency's Delta mission to the International Space Station was launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Dr. Rose and her team's experiment was aboard: an incubator containing C. elegans worms. The research is part of the international ICE-First project (International C. elegans First Flight), funded in part by the Canadian Space Agency.
"Our research is important for understanding potential problems for astronauts caused by exposure to radiation during long space missions to the International Space Station or, one day, Mars," says Dr. Rose. "Radiation levels are many times higher in space, and this can cause mutations. We'd like to use C. elegans as a biological radiation dosimeter for measuring the damage to the genes caused by radiation on long space flights."
Since the worms came back to Earth, Dr. Rose and the ICE-First team have been analyzing the results, and plan to publish a scientific paper on their findings in the spring of 2006.
ICE-First is one of many experiments Dr. Rose has undertaken in her quest to understand what makes humans tick. "One of the reasons I went into genetics is because I could ask precise questions and get precise answers," she says. "I wanted to know what genes we have, how they work, how they pass from generation to generation, what causes and prevents genetic mistakes, and how genetics is related to our behaviour and the way we interact with others. It all goes back to being interested in people."
She has mentored graduate and undergraduate students, passing on what she has learned throughout her career. Dr. Rose will no doubt continue to cultivate her interest in people in her new position as Associate Dean in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of British Columbia.