RSS feed for entries


“Germs taken to space come back deadlier”

That’s the AP headline, and for once they’re not exaggerating.

The germ: Salmonella, best known as a culprit of food poisoning. The trip: Space Shuttle STS-115, September 2006. The reason: Scientists wanted to see how space travel affects germs. …

“Wherever humans go, microbes go, you can’t sterilize humans. … and it’s important that we understand … how they’re going to change,” explained Cheryl Nickerson [professor at Arizona State University].

The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space.

After the shuttle returned, mice were given varying oral doses of the salmonella and then were watched.

After 25 days, 40 percent of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10 percent of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.

The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.

It seems — they haven’t proved this yet — that microgravity stimulated the Salmonella to activate different genes, which happen to result in more virulence. The original article will be published in Tuesday’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (for those of you who can’t keep a straight face at the usual PNAS reference).

If this turns out to be true of other bacteria as well, especially the ones which are normal parts of the human body’s ecosystem, that’ll be really bad news for long term space travel.

Given that if I knew how to make a rocket in my back yard, I’d be heading to Mars already, this is devastating news for me.

First posted at Shakesville]