What happens to bacteria in space?

Surely you have repeatedly paid attention to the fact thatscientists regularly send microorganisms aboard the International Space Station for research. But what happens to bacteria during space travel, do they mutate? Knowing how microbes behave in their unusual habitat is vital for us if we want to colonize other planets. In addition, we are rapidly approaching the sending of the first astronauts to Mars, and in this risky and dangerous journey, it is necessary to take into account many variables.

It turned out that some bacteria feel great aboard the ISS

Is it worth worrying about mutant bacteria in space?

Remember Herbert's science fiction novelWells “War of the Worlds”? In it, the Martians decided to take over our planet, but as a result they fell a victim of their own hindsight - having come to Earth, alien invaders came into contact with numerous microorganisms that live on our planet. It was they who brought the evil Martians destruction.

Frame from the 2005 film “War of the Worlds”

Indeed, the role of microorganisms is not worth itunderestimate. In the end, each person is a carrier of thousands of viruses, bacteria and fungi: they make up our microbiome and accompany us wherever we go, even into space. However, in space, conditions are changing, and you need to know what exactly is happening with germs. This is especially important also because we are talking about organisms whose ability to mutate is incredibly developed. Think for yourself - bacteria live even in the most inhospitable environment on our planet.

You may be wondering: Will the Mars colonists become mutants?

A number of studies conducted since the end of 2018,paints not such a favorable picture as future colonists would like. A study conducted with several strains of Enterobacter bacteria found on the ISS revealed that, despite the fact that these bacteria were not pathogenic, the probability of getting sick due to contact with them is 79%. But the new work, published in the journal mSystems, describes the result of the analysis carried out with bacteria that visited the ISS. In this case, we are talking about Staphylococcus aureus (Staphylococcus aureus) and Echinocereus bacillus (Bacillus cereus). According to the results, despite the extreme conditions on the ISS, bacteria mutate and become “dangerous”. Moreover, they become resistant to antibiotics.

Bacteria mutate to survive

Researchers from Northwestern Universityfound that although the studied strains contain genetic material different from terrestrial ones, these genes do not make bacteria more dangerous for humans. According to the authors of the study, bacteria react and possibly evolve in order to survive in a very stressful environment.

So Staphylococcus aureus looks under a microscope

During the study, scientistsused a public database provided by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information. The database contains a genomic analysis of many bacteria that have visited the ISS. Note that the selected bacterial species live in a different environment: Staphylococcus aureus lives on the skin, and one of its strains, the so-called MRSA (methicillin resistant), is difficult to treat. Echinocereus bacilli live in the soil, and their activity has a small effect on human health.

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According to lead author of the study, EricHartmann, the bacteria that live on the skin, feel great on the ISS. The fact is that human skin is warm and contains organic and chemical substances that bacteria like. However, it is worth removing the bacteria from the skin on the ISS, as they instantly enter a different environment: cold and aggressive. And yet, bacterial genes help them survive even in such harsh conditions. According to experts, such an environment awakens “sleeping” genes, which give bacteria an advantage and even contribute to mutations. Be that as it may, the bacteria have one goal - to survive at all costs.

And so under the microscope looks Bacillus cereus

Although this is good news,specialists are very careful in future forecasts. The fact is that astronauts are people with excellent health. However, when a large number of tourists go to space, whose health will not necessarily correspond to the health of astronauts, it is not known what can happen. Imagine what happens if you place a person with an infection in a closed bubble in space? This can be compared to a person who coughs or sneezes on an airplane. And in this case, the disease simply spreads.