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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Microgravity simulation by diamagnetic levitation: effects of a strong gradient magnetic field on the transcriptional profile of Drosophila melanogaster

Raul Herranz12*, Oliver J Larkin3, Camelia E Dijkstra3, Richard JA Hill4, Paul Anthony3, Michael R Davey3, Laurence Eaves4, Jack JWA van Loon5, F Javier Medina1 and Roberto Marco2

Author Affiliations

1 Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas (CSIC), Ramiro de Maeztu 9, E-28040, Madrid, Spain

2 Departamento de Bioquímica, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), Arzobispo Morcillo s/n, E-28029, Madrid, Spain

3 School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, LE12 5RD, UK

4 School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

5 Dutch Experiment Support Center, DESC at OCB-ACTA, VU-University and University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-52

Published: 1 February 2012



Many biological systems respond to the presence or absence of gravity. Since experiments performed in space are expensive and can only be undertaken infrequently, Earth-based simulation techniques are used to investigate the biological response to weightlessness. A high gradient magnetic field can be used to levitate a biological organism so that its net weight is zero.


We have used a superconducting magnet to assess the effect of diamagnetic levitation on the fruit fly D. melanogaster in levitation experiments that proceeded for up to 22 consecutive days. We have compared the results with those of similar experiments performed in another paradigm for microgravity simulation, the Random Positioning Machine (RPM). We observed a delay in the development of the fruit flies from embryo to adult. Microarray analysis indicated changes in overall gene expression of imagoes that developed from larvae under diamagnetic levitation, and also under simulated hypergravity conditions. Significant changes were observed in the expression of immune-, stress-, and temperature-response genes. For example, several heat shock proteins were affected. We also found that a strong magnetic field, of 16.5 Tesla, had a significant effect on the expression of these genes, independent of the effects associated with magnetically-induced levitation and hypergravity.


Diamagnetic levitation can be used to simulate an altered effective gravity environment in which gene expression is tuned differentially in diverse Drosophila melanogaster populations including those of different age and gender. Exposure to the magnetic field per se induced similar, but weaker, changes in gene expression.