For years, researchers have conducted studies aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to determine the effects of living in space…
For years, researchers have conducted studies aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to determine the effects of living in space on humans and microorganisms. In addition to the high levels of radiation, it is also worrying that prolonged exposure to microgravity may cause genetic mutations. Understanding these and getting in touch with countermeasures is crucial for humanity to become a truly space-ready species.
Interestingly, a group of researchers from Northwestern University have conducted a study of bacteria retained on board the ISS. Contrary to what many suspects, the bacteria did not mutate to a drug-resistant super-strain but instead mutated to adapt to their environment. These results can be crucial in understanding how living creatures will adapt to the stressful environment of space.
The study describing the team’s discovery has recently been demonstrated in mSystems a scientific journal published by American Society for Microbiology. The study was led by Erica Hartmann, an assistant professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (DCEE) at the NWU, and included several DCEE researchers and post-doctoral students and Sarah Castro-Wallace from NASA Johnson Space Center.
Researchers have experimented to see how bacteria grow in space. Credit: NASA
Studies like this are essential for missions planned for the near future, including NASA’s renewed mission plans for the Moon’s surface and their proposed crew to Mars. In addition, China, Russia and India are planning to send astronauts to the moon over the coming decades. As Professor Hartmann explained in a press release from the NWU:
“There has been a lot of speculation about radiation, microwaves and lack of ventilation and how it can affect living organisms, including bacteria. These are stressful, harsh conditions. They have an advantage The answer seems to be “no.”
For their studies, Hartmann and her associates reviewed data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which maintains archive information on microbe experiments performed on board the ISS. the how bacteria originate Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus grew in space.
The former is found on human skin and contains the drug-resistant MRSA strain, making it responsible for several difficult to treat infections in humans. impact on human health, but still provided valuable information about how soil microbes grow when removed from their comfort zone and exposed to unknown conditions in space.
20,000x magnification of drug resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Credit: CDC
“Bacteria that live on the skin are very happy there,” says Hartmann. “Your skin is warm and has some oils and organic chemicals that bacteria really like. When you throw these bacteria, they are in a completely different environment. A building’s surface is cold and ingrained, which is extremely stressful for some bacteria.” 19659002] When the team compared how these strains grew aboard the ISS to how the same strains grow on Earth. What they found was that the bacteria that lived on the ISS mutated to adapt to the local conditions, choosing beneficial genes to continue feeding, growing and functioning in microgravity and when exposed to higher radiation levels.
Ryan Blaustein, a postdoctoral fellow in Hartmann’s laboratory who was the first author of the study, indicated that this was a surprising result. “Based on genomic analysis, it appears that bacteria are adapting to living – not evolving to cause disease,” he said. “We didn’t see anything special about antibiotic resistance or virulence in the space station’s bacteria.”
This is really good news for future astronauts, not to mention people who hope to participate in the growing space tourism industry ever. In both cases, the crew is forced to live, work, and generally pass the time in small capsules or modules where there is no ventilation and air circulates for long periods.
The artist’s concept of a bimodal nuclear rocket that makes the journey to the Moon, Mars and other destinations in the solar system. Credit: NASA
Given the health risks, it is certainly a relief to know that terrestrial bacteria will not mutate to super-bacteria that are even more resistant to antibiotics. Of course, Hartmann and her colleagues also emphasized that this study does not mean that bacteria cannot proliferate when they enter spacecraft or aboard a space station:
“Everywhere you go, you bring your microbes. The astronauts are very healthy people. But when we talk about expanding spaceflight to tourists who don’t necessarily meet astronaut criteria, we don’t know what’s going on, we can’t tell you if you put someone with an infection in a closed bubble in space that it won’t transfer to other people “It’s like someone is coughing on an airplane, and everyone is getting sick.” As always, space exploration plays many risks, and the prospect of sending astronauts to longer journeys or tourists to space presents many challenges. Fortunately, we have decades of research to lean on and lots of groundbreaking experiments to help us get informed before that day comes.
This study was possible thanks to support from the Searle Leadership Fund and the National Institutes of Health ]