Bacteria Sent In Space Could Be Potentially Infectious, Harmful

First Posted: Oct 26, 2016 05:10 AM EDT

Researchers discovered that the salmonella bacteria sent in space in 2006 via the space shuttle Atlantis had infected hundreds of mice and led to their death  after few days. This was the first-time bacteria became harmful after spaceflight.

The discovery was led by Cheryl Nickerson, a microbiologist at Arizona State University and colleagues. The researchers found that more of the mice with space-grown salmonella became sick. Then, after two days they started to die. Salmonella can decimate a mouse in seven days.

It is reported that microbes send in space grow faster and get better at causing disease. On the other hand, experts said that the behavior is unpredictable. This creates an alarm on people who are sent to space and packed with microbes. They will be being in for a big surprise or probably could harm them more.

Nickerson explained that the bacteria in the body are always interacting with liquids such as blood, mucous or stomach fluid. The fluids put on a physical force or shear on the outer membrane of the bacteria. She further said that the bacteria feel this shear from their environment and use it as a clue on how they should behave. The most common sites of infection are in the intestinal tract, the urogenital area, and the respiratory area. Nickerson said that the bacteria is sensing those shear levels and reprogramming itself to do what it entails to do to survive in those conditions, according to Washington Post.

Hernan Lorenzi, a researcher at the J. Craig Venter Institute is worried that an astronaut could be more vulnerable to disease. He said that imagine a situation where one astronaut gets infected by a bacterium that you carry in your regularly, but becomes pathogenic because of some factor due to space. The usually recommended therapy is you take an antibiotic to fight that bacteria. On the other hand, you would kill most of your bacteria. He asked then, "How are you going to recover that microbiome once you diminished most of the bacteria you had in the gut?"

Meanwhile, for Nickerson the space flight is a revolutionary approach to comprehending how biological systems operate. She further said that when you study these bacteria under severe environments you see how they are going to adapt and survive and the potential is enormous.

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