Print 40 comment(s) - last by wallijonn.. on Sep 26 at 11:04 AM

NASA is conducting a study on germs it sent as part of an experiment that returned home much more deadly.

NASA wanted to conduct an experiment on how pathogenic bacteria behaved outside the confines of Earth's gravity.  Its experiment bore some surprising results.

In September 2006, the Space Shuttle STS-115 launched, carrying in its cargo a sample of Salmonella bacteria.  The sample was part of a collaborative experiment with Arizona State University's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, which wanted to investigate the effects of weightlessness and other space phenomena on pathogens.  ASU kept a separate sample in similar condition on earth as a control group.

When the sample from space returned, they proceeded to feed both strains of salmonella to lab mice.

The results were startling.  After 25 days, 40 percent of the earth-strain mice were still alive.  Only 10 percent of the group infected with the space-strain was still alive.  Researchers conducted additional studies which revealed that only 1/3 as many of the space-strain pathogens were needed to kill a healthy mouse as earth strain pathogens.  The conclusions--the space strain had become far more deadly on its journey into orbit.

Genetic studies revealed that the bacteria had mutated quickly in space and had a total of 167 genes changed. 

Professor Cheryl Nickerson, one of the study's researchers cautions that the cause for the increased toxicity is not definitively known (the 64 million dollar question as she puts it), but she says that it is thought to be due to fluid shear effects.

"Being cultured in microgravity means the force of the liquid passing over the cells is low… [The cells] are responding not to microgravity, but indirectly to microgravity in the low fluid shear effects."

"There are areas in the body which are low shear, such as the gastrointestinal tract, where, obviously, salmonella finds itself," she went on to say. "So, it's clear this is an environment not just relevant to space flight, but to conditions here on Earth, including in the infected host."

Nickerson sees the mutation as a natural adaptation to a changing environment in order to survive.  The increased toxicity is a side effect.

The research will be published in today's edition of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The research received funding and support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Louisiana Board of Regents, Arizona Proteomics Consortium, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, National Institutes of Health and the University of Arizona.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Chris Peredun on 9/25/2007 9:14:46 AM , Rating: 4
I'd like to remind them that as a Dailytech writer, I can be helpful in rounding up others to dwell in the mitochondrial generation chambers.

By Master Kenobi on 9/25/2007 9:27:28 AM , Rating: 2
What doesn't kill you most certaintly makes them stronger.

By Blight AC on 9/25/2007 9:57:08 AM , Rating: 3
Well that's great.. humans get weaker and bacteria gets stronger. :|

By Wightout on 9/25/2007 5:46:53 PM , Rating: 3
Well... assuming Darwin was correct, doctors only weaken the race by helping the weak to reproduce. Thus you are correct in that statement. Hurray for medicine!

By FITCamaro on 9/25/2007 9:42:18 AM , Rating: 1
I've got a few candidates....

By Master Kenobi on 9/25/2007 9:51:26 AM , Rating: 1
Stand in line.....

By Misty Dingos on 9/25/2007 9:55:09 AM , Rating: 2
Just wait for the "space germ" law suits to begin. It is only a matter of time. All those people going into space bringing back mutated germs.

Congress could have special investigations and sound bites for FOX, CBS, ABC …. Unrelenting questioning of witness’s by pompous senators looking for votes. In a voice like Foghorn Leghorn. “This is an outrage! I say sir, sir did you not eat the food on the ISS knowing that it would produce yet more mutated pathogens?”

And then there will be the "people" that believe that Ebola and HIV were a government conspiracy cooked up on the moon. It's the Andromeda Strain all over again.

This will cause a few more tin foil hats to be made.

Drink your orange juice and all will be well. Trust me.

By ADDAvenger on 9/25/2007 10:15:11 AM , Rating: 2
Shows what you know. Viruses aren't even alive, so it's impossible for them to die in the usual sense. As they say, crap happens, and it's not a new phenomenon.

Don't you think it strange that all of Europe was happily going along its way when a one to two thirds of them of them dropped dead over the course of some fifteen years? Personally, I think it was a great conspiracy from a remote Asian mountain range pulled off by a league of assassins that figured Europe had just gotten too big and cocky.

By Odysseus on 9/25/2007 10:31:53 AM , Rating: 2
Ummm .. Leprosy?

By Misty Dingos on 9/25/2007 11:08:02 AM , Rating: 2
Hansen's disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, not a virus. Do you want to go for Double Jepordy?

By Blight AC on 9/25/2007 10:01:15 AM , Rating: 3
Watch out for the water, it has been floridated, impurifying our precious bodily fluids.

By Polynikes on 9/25/2007 11:04:09 AM , Rating: 2
Hmmm... This might put a damper on commercial space travel. Just imagine someone with HIV going up there, then spreading their even more lethal version of the virus after they got back. :\

By geddarkstorm on 9/25/2007 4:02:09 PM , Rating: 2
Fortunately, that's unlikely to happen with a virus like that, since the environment of the body is still the same (and being a retrovirus it actually stays inside T-cell genomic DNA until activated by T-cell binding to an antigen; so it has no chance to mutate anymore than our normal genetics as long as it's in pro-virus phase). Same goes for all germs actually in a person. Hence why all these decades of space travel and no astronaut has returned with some disease to kill us all :)

By Griswold on 9/25/2007 10:01:31 AM , Rating: 2
Well said, Kent err.. Chris!

By AlvinCool on 9/25/2007 10:59:21 AM , Rating: 2
Actually it's odd that they would publish this, since it makes for a cheap but possibly extremely effective weapon. If I knew of a virus that mutated in a extreme fashion, assuming they don't all mutate at the same rate, and I sent it into orbit for X amount of days with the satellite set to re-enter orbit and hit a section of earth that would allow it to multiply wouldn't that be a horrible weapon?

RE: weapon
By rippleyaliens on 9/25/07, Rating: 0
RE: weapon
By AlvinCool on 9/25/2007 11:45:34 AM , Rating: 2
The properties of a vaccine is that it's a very low level of the same or similar disease. If you made it stronger I believe you would be defeating the purpose.

The point I am trying to make is if you could mutate a virus that much, would the vaccine even work again? I would guess that there are diseases were it would not. Hence it would be a terrible weapon that would probably target the world

RE: weapon
By acer905 on 9/25/2007 12:06:31 PM , Rating: 2
While it is possible that both were created as weapons that suddenly broke out of containment, it is also possible that it was simply a evolution of sorts. I really wouldn't begin to guess. But there is a solution, albeit a slightly non user friendly one... Find anyone contaminated, round them all up, and don't allow contact with anyone else. Once everyone with the disease is gone... no more problem.

RE: weapon
By NT78stonewobble on 9/25/2007 1:12:18 PM , Rating: 2
Jungles are among the densest habitats on earth relative to how many different species live there. I assume that it would include microbiological lifeforms and then viruses too.

Well not only was the diseases not known hundreds of years ago neither were the areas in which they originated.

I.m.h.o. aids isn't part of a conspiracy just proof of how small the world has become.

RE: weapon
By geddarkstorm on 9/25/2007 4:05:33 PM , Rating: 2
No one knows where Ebola comes from. Viruses commonly have a reservoir animal. An animal they can infect but which they don't manifest infection within. They use those as carriers until they find a host they can be truly pathogenic within (humans and gorillas). As it is, scientists have yet to figure out Ebola's reservoir animal. Smallpox, on the other hand, had no reservoir animal, which is one of the major reasons it was able to be irradiated: it had to be in a human host and it had to be pathogenic, so it was easy to do the very thing you propose :) (plus vaccination).

RE: weapon
By Misty Dingos on 9/25/2007 2:55:32 PM , Rating: 2
First things first, a virus requires a host to reproduce in. In all likelihood any virus you sent into space would simply be destroyed. If it did survive it would likely be no more virulent than it was before if no replication takes place. So you would have to have a suitable medium for the virus to exist in. And while some viruses are easy to take of it is my understanding that HIV is not. It seems to be a rather fussy about how it is stored and grown.

The bacteria they experimented with were simply exposed to a harsh environment. The ones that survived that environment were able to survive longer in an adverse environment. Much like the effect of over prescribing or abusing antibiotics.

And hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Hanta, Dengue….) have been with us from the dawn of time. Ebola is likely to have been in the great ape population for thousands of years. And is a leading candidate for the disease responsible for the Black Death in the Middle Ages. That’s right nobody has positively even identified the disease responsible for the Black Death.

Greater population density leads us to a greater awareness of these tragic diseases. In the past if a villager contracted Ebola and everyone in his village died, the jungle would simply reclaim the land and none would be the wiser. People finding the empty village would simply avoid the area because of evil spirits.

HIV is a member of the Lentiviruses genus. It was contracted from old world monkeys some time in the 20th century. The ability to manipulate viruses for our own purposes is just beginning to have some scientific viability. The thought that some time from post World War II to 1950 (first documented AIDS death is 1959) someone could have even identified a likely viral candidate to change into HIV is laughable. It took the best minds in virology years just to identify the virus. As a bio-weapon HIV is terrible. It takes too long to work and is easily prevented with simple precautions. And despite what you read in the papers AIDS is not the leading cause of death in the world today. If you want to pick on a disease that has caused more harm than most if not all, I would take malaria.

Most diseases were unheard of 300-500 years ago. Unless a disease had a very distinct characterization it was simple called a fever. How many times have you had a cold or the flu? If the answer is more than about three you would likely have died as a result of one of those infections if you had been born 200 years ago. The cold and the flu were and still are life threatening illnesses, but we now treat with mere nuisance status. AIDS would likely been mistaken as an effect of old age in many or simply another opportunistic fever.

RE: weapon
By geddarkstorm on 9/25/2007 4:09:16 PM , Rating: 2
Common conjecture about HIV is that it's a zoogenic virus that was introduced to humans by total accident through the original and very crude Polio vaccine. There were a lot of contamination issues with that original vaccine, including the use of monkey serum in it which was phased out at later times. Of course, that's all conjecture though there seems to be a fair bit of evidence for it. New diseases commonly crop up through zoogenic methods (spread to humans from a different species).

RE: weapon
By Chimpee on 9/25/2007 4:38:32 PM , Rating: 2
We all know the super germ weapon is kept in a ultra secret facility in New Mexico called Wildfire.

And the moral of this story is...
By StillPimpin on 9/25/2007 9:28:29 AM , Rating: 5
Don't eat space chicken..

By acer905 on 9/25/2007 9:38:51 AM , Rating: 2
Ahh, so thats why they scrapped the plans for the KFC on the ISS...

By MonkeyPaw on 9/25/2007 10:36:28 AM , Rating: 2
Don't eat space chicken..

...or space spinach--or was it earth spinach? I forget.

By DigitalFreak on 9/25/2007 10:30:45 AM , Rating: 2
This is the real reason China is launching their space program.

RE: Chinese
By murphyslabrat on 9/25/2007 1:19:32 PM , Rating: 1
Except it wouldn't have anything to do with America, it would be to kill off their own citizens.

Seriously, though, that is China's goal with the whole "One Kid per Two Adults" thing. Theoretically, the population should not only stop increasing, but cut in half every 50 or so years. So, why not speed it up with a guaranteed method: biological weapons. And, if it is them doing it, there will be no one to detect and intervene.

RE: Chinese
By FITCamaro on 9/25/2007 1:57:18 PM , Rating: 2
The Chinese are already in enough trouble. Men far outnumber women due to parents sometimes going even as far as killing female children. What does that give you?

1) Poor chance of the population growing much in 30 years.
2) A bunch of extremely horny men with nowhere to get some.

Why do you think the Chinese love America? Strip clubs.

RE: Chinese
By Myrandex on 9/25/2007 3:19:03 PM , Rating: 2
If you did a little bit of research, you would realize that it isn't this simple there anymore. The one child policy originally started out as a 2 child policy, but shrunk that to the 1 child rule that you refer to. Now in some areas, it is relaxed to where they can have more (sometimes up to 4 or so), or they can pay an extra fee to be allowed to have another child. Also if the first child is a girl, then I believe that they are able to attempt to have another child.

By NEOCortex on 9/25/2007 10:31:24 AM , Rating: 2
Where is the picture of the Venom symbiote? I mean, isn't this clearly a step in that direction?

RE: Venom
By Chris Peredun on 9/25/2007 11:45:32 AM , Rating: 2
I was torn between that and the Simpsons reference, but I decided to stick with the ubiquitous Overlord meme.

An important point....
By slashbinslashbash on 9/25/2007 2:41:00 PM , Rating: 2
I saw this researcher give a talk about this research a few months ago.

An important point is that this is NOT a genetic mutation. This is simply a result of these bacteria being raised in space. Think if you raised a human fully (from the embryo) in a near-weightless environment. That human would grow to look very different and have many different properties (e.g. bone density and musculature would be so weak as to limit their ever going into a full-gravity environment). But if you bred this human, and took the embryo back to Earth and raised it there, it would be perfectly normal. The genetics aren't changing.

So these bacteria are simply gaining certain properties from being raised in space. Once you bring them back to Earth, when they reproduce, they will produce Earth-normal bacteria as offspring.

RE: An important point....
By Myrandex on 9/25/2007 3:23:51 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like an experiment to create a Spacing Guild :)

A New Space Agency
By TimberJon on 9/25/2007 11:26:45 AM , Rating: 2
There will probably have to be a few new Agencies started up and meant to deal with airborne zero-grav pathogens, viruses and bacterium, etc.. etc..

I am no good at naming agencies though. Takers?

The real reason
By AlphaVirus on 9/25/2007 12:01:34 PM , Rating: 2
So this must be the real reason why we have been having so many outbreaks of E.coli, Botulism, Melamine etc.

They are bringing the stuff back from space...

We have over 50 space missions a year, all that bacteria is just adding up and spreading...maybe this is how humankind was started, a virus from space and we spread like wildflowers.

Not Shocked nor amazed
By Nik00117 on 9/25/2007 4:06:03 PM , Rating: 2
I would expect the shear difference between earht and space that this affect could be simply a obvious point.

zero gravity bacteria
By wallijonn on 9/26/2007 11:04:23 AM , Rating: 2
Is it really zero gravity or is it a combination of pure oxygen and an increase, or decrease, of background radiation? One would think that the increased Nitrogen in Earth's air at sea level may inhibit growth while the pure Oxygen atmosphere in a space capsule may facilitate 'pure' growth. Likewise the space capsule may be better shielded from microwave radiation (there are no cell phone transmitters in space), for all we know an increased gamma ray background could facilitate bacteria growth.

Since Earth conditions may not be able to be replicated in space, the next best thing would be to try to replicate space like conditions on Earth.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki