June 3, 2020

12.10.09: NASA Battles Bacteria in Space.

Astronauts have been growing Salmonella bacterium in orbit, and the results have been astounding. Missions STS-115 and 123 to the International Space Station performed the experiments, showing that the bacterium were up to 7 times more virulent when grown in zero-g than on Earth. The likely culprit; fluid shear, which mimics the environment found in the human gut. But there is more weirdness; add potassium or chlorine ions, and the virulence levels off! Such is the wackiness of cells… Why study microscopic bugs in space? Well, these experiments enable researchers to map the genome of these bacterium by following their explosive growth and also to identify “master switches” such as the protein Hfq that controls certain genes… this in turn will lead to designer drugs in the quest to stay ahead of evolution in the antibiotics battle.