Researchers have found that life on the International Space Station (ISS) can alter 'super bugs'.
NASA's Researchers and Microbiologists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that there were five different types of Enterobacter present in the toilet and exercise areas on the ISS.
Earlier studies have shown that staying in space has altered the bugs in ways and caused them to be "supercharged" as they adapted to the new environment in space. This led to mutations in the microbes and altered them. In fact, a particular bacteria was found to undergo over a dozen mutations when in space, and this increased their ability to multiply.
View from ISS Image Credit: Dima Zel / NASA / Shutterstock
These bacteria formed biofilms on the equipment and the growth of biofilms were found to be faster than the growth of similar biofilms on Earth. This signifies the rapid multiplication of these bacteria.
Dr. Nitin Singh, the first author of the study, said: "Given these multi-drug resistance results for these ISS genomes and the increased probability of pathogenicity we have identified, these species potentially pose important health considerations for future missions … However, it is important to understand that the strains found on the ISS were not virulent, which means they are not an active threat to human health, but something to be monitored. "
Computer modeling and simulations show, however, that these altered bacteria have a 79 percent chance of becoming virulent and causing human disease. On these these bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics and can infect only those with a compromised immunity. The team explains because they have 112 genes common to pathogenic bacteria on Earth.
These space Enterobacter strains were found to be resistant to antibiotics such as cefazolin, cefoxitin, oxacillin, penicillin and rifampin and others.
The JPL routinely analyzes the microbes from the space stations to check if they could anyhow damage astronauts or affect sensitive equipment. Microbiologist Kasthur Venkateswaran in a statement said, "To show which species of the bacteria were present on the ISS, we used various methods to characterize their genomes in detail. We revealed that genomes of the five ISS Enterobacter strains were genetically more similar to the three strains newly found on Earth. "She added," These three strains belonged to one species of the bacteria called Enterobacter bugandensis, which was found to be causing illness in newborns and a patient at risk, who were admitted to three different hospitals (in East Africa, Washington State and Colorado). "
These samples were from 2015. Venkateswaran said, "Whether or not an opportunistic pathogen like." E. bugandensis causes of disease and how much of a threat it is, depends on a variety of factors, including environmental ones … Further in vivo studies are needed to determine the impact that conditions on the ISS, such as microgravity, other space, and spaceships related factors , may have pathogenicity and virulence. "