Is the shape of a protein affected by gravity? In space, will the shape of a protein be different to what it is on Earth?

If the structure and shape is in fact affected, then would it be enough of a change to cause a change in protein function?

I've found studies from NASA saying that when protein crystals are grown in space, they are larger and form more perfect crystals than on Earth but I want to know about the effect of gravity on proteins that have already been formed.


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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide a link to the NASA article please ? $\endgroup$
    – Roni Saiba
    Oct 1, 2017 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1320.html $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2017 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Please note: Life depends on enzymes and other proteins. People have lived in space for long periods of time. If protein structure (3-D) were affected by being in space, do you think life would be possible there? $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2017 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Yes of course I've considered that before asking the question but I thought there could be minute changes that wouldn't cause serious illness. Also, space flight definitely takes a toll on health and the weightlessness does mean muscle mass is lost. I thought perhaps as opposed to this simply being because of the lack of use of muscles, it may be because of changes in the shape of proteins that govern their structure and the production of muscles. So, I just wanted to know if gravity would have an effect on protein structure. $\endgroup$ Oct 1, 2017 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ You can also do a rough estimate about the energy involved - the amount of energy a protein would gain from moving a distance of its radius (protein mass)*(acceleration of gravity)*(protein radius) is about a billionth of the typical scale of thermal energy in the cell (kT = 4 piconewton nm). $\endgroup$
    – AJK
    Oct 2, 2017 at 5:23

1 Answer 1


Proteins are not made to be one way up or the other as they flow around and surround cells, so sea-level to space gravity gradient will not be the major cause of change to proteins at different altitudes.

Pressure is more of a factor on proteins, and it has been studies very much, both for protein shape and protein interaction with elements and other molecules.


People have awesome health when they are born and raised at altitudes of 4000 meters, there are even people living at 4800 meters OK. the pressure gradient there is halfway in between sea level and space. 100m depth also stresses nitrogen toxicity and other severe effects more than proteins, but deep sea fish do have specially adapted proteins because depths at 10000 meters require different proteins than the surface.

  • $\begingroup$ Note: the sea-level to space gravity gradient is much lower than sea-level to even geostationary orbit gradient. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 1, 2017 at 19:30

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