Using Space Bacteria For Earthling Cures

What can you do when you’ve got a case of the Martian barnacles? Venusian whooping sneeze? Van Allen below-the-belt snickerbumps? The Callisto flockheart? Get NASA on the horn before your foot swells to the size of a Neptunian varp poodle (they’re very large)! Astronauts have been studying the effects of space travel on Pseudomonas aeruginosa (the cooties that made Fred Haise ill during 1970’s Apollo 13 mission) and Salmonella typhimurium in hopes of finding out what makes them tick in this particular environment. Space bacteria is a scary thought, right?

Using Space Bacteria For Earthling Cures
cc licensed flickr photo shared by x-ray delta one

Able to exist benignly in healthy people, Pseudomonas aeruginosa on Earth is generally only a danger to those with immune systems that have been compromised — such as burn victims and cystic fibrosis sufferers. Salmonella typhimurium, on the other hand, can incapacitate even the healthiest among the population. In studies aboard the space shuttle and the International Space Station, these pathogens were studied on a molecular level to determine their reaction to the reduced gravity of space. It was discovered that the low fluid shear environment of space travel — where the bacteria exerts less energy and becomes especially mobile over the surface of cells — is incredibly conducive to the infectiousness of space bacteria.

“For the first time, we’re able to see that two very different species of bacteria — Salmonella and Pseudomonas — share the same basic regulating mechanism, or master control switch, that micro-manages many of the microbes’ responses to the spaceflight environment,” says Cheryl Nickerson, associate professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

“We discovered that aspects of the environment that microbes encountered during spaceflight appeared to mimic key conditions that pathogens normally encounter in our bodies during the natural course of infection, particularly in the respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and urogenital tract,” says Nickerson. NASA’s Advanced Capabilities Division Director, Benjamin Neumann added that, “This means that in addition to safeguarding future space travelers, such research may aid the quest for better therapeutics against pathogens here on Earth.”

An abstract on this research can be found here: Transcriptional and proteomic responses of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 to spaceflight conditions involve Hfq regulation and reveal a role for oxygen.

But that rash on your hand sure looks a lot like Jupiter spider hives to me. Space bacteria is no laughing matter!