Could the Superbugs of the International Space Station Become a New Breed of "Supercharged" Killers?


Researchers who discovered that super microbes lived aboard the International Space Station called for urgent research on how space affects their development.

NASA scientists have found that five different varieties of Enterobacter have been found in the toilets and exercise area of ​​the ISS.

Previous studies have shown that, when exposed to spatial conditions, bacterial mutations can become "supercharged" as they adapt to their new environment.

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NASA scientists have discovered that five different varieties of Enterobacter, a virus similar to that found in hospitals, infested the International Space Station.


A recent study conducted by NPJ Microgravity revealed that one bacterium had acquired more than a dozen mutations when it was exposed to space and that these modifications improved its reproduction.

Astronauts aboard the ISS have already encountered on their equipment thick bacterial biofilms that develop faster than normal.

NASA experts have called for urgent research on insects.

"Given the multiple drug resistance outcomes for these ISS genomes and the increased risks of pathogenicity that we have identified, these species could pose significant health problems for future missions," said Dr. Nitin Singh, first author of the document.

"However, it is important to understand that strains found on the ISS were not virulent, which means that they do not pose an active threat to human health, but need to be monitored. "

However, according to computer modeling, there is a 79% probability that they develop into pathogens for humans and that they cause disease.

On Earth, some strains of Enterobacter can infect immunocompromised patients in intensive care units, and their resistance to antibiotics is high.

JPL researchers compared their antibiotic resistance to that of the three clinical strains and found that Enterobacter from outer space were resistant to cefazolin, cefoxitin, oxacillin, penicillin and rifampin, and exhibited varying degrees of resistance to others.

They also found that while the Enterobacter strains of the space station are not currently pathogenic to humans, they have 112 genes in common with the clinical strains associated with virulence, disease and defense.

The microbiologists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory regularly analyze samples of microbes taken from the space station to determine if the space environment affects their populations in any way – and also to see if they pose a risk. for the health of astronauts or for delicate equipment. .

& # 39; To show which species of bacteria were present on the ISS, we used various methods to characterize their genomes in detail.

"We revealed that the genomes of the five ISS strains of Enterobacter were genetically more similar to the three recently discovered strains on Earth," said microbiolgist Kasthuri Venkateswaran.

"These three strains belonged to a species of the bacterium, Enterobacter bugandensis, known to cause diseases in neonates and a compromised patient, who were admitted to three different hospitals (in East Africa, in the US). State of Washington and Colorado). "

The samples were collected in 2015.

"Whether or not an opportunistic pathogen such as E. bugandensis is a cause of the disease depends on many factors, especially environmental ones," said Venkateswaran.

"Other in vivo studies are needed to determine the impact that conditions on the ISS, such as microgravity, other factors related to space and on gears can have on pathogenicity and virulence. "


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