During the STS-90 shuttle flight in April 1998, cultured renal cortical cells revealed new information about genes. Timothy Hammond, an investigator in NASA's microgravity biotechnology program was interested in culturing kidney tissue to study the expression of proteins useful in the treatment of kidney diseases. Protein expression is linked to the level of differentiation of the kidney cells, and Hammond had difficulty maintaining differentiated cells in vitro. Intrigued by the improvement in cell differentiation that he observed in rat renal cells cultured in NASA's rotating wall vessel (a bioreactor that simulates some aspects of microgravity) and during an experiment performed on the Russian Space Station Mir, Hammond decided to sleuth out which genes were responsible for controlling differentiation of kidney cells. To do this, he compared the gene activity of human renal cells in a variety of gravitational environments, including the microgravity of the space shuttle and the high-gravity environment of a centrifuge. Hammond found that 1,632 genes out of 10,000 analyzed changed their activity level in microgravity, more than in any of the other environments. These results have important implications for kidney research as well as for understanding the basic mechanism for controlling cell differentiation.