Even though most people connect NASA with space research involving new planets, many manned shuttle launches include science experiments to help analyze organic material. Two recent NASA missions helped researchers on Earth better understand the Salmonella bacteria, hopefully moving one step towards stopping food poisoning and other food-borne infections.
"This research opens up new areas for investigations that may improve food treatment, develop new therapies and vaccines to combat food poisoning in humans here on Earth, and protect astronauts on orbit from infectious diseases," International Space Station program scientist Julie Robinson said in a statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 40,000 people in the United States per year suffer from Salmonella infections.
The NASA experiments launched to the ISS in September 2006 and March 2008, with different goals designed for both research projects. Findings from the 2006 research revealed a molecular "switch" that allows Salmonella to respond to spaceflight and the harsh environment of space in a manner that it doesn't need to while on Earth. Space Salmonella was found to be more poisonous and harmful, as it was forced to adjust.
The 2008 Salmonella experiment confirmed researchers' findings in 2006, and found its virulence alters depending on its growth environment. Researchers were able to use both studies to help try and stop Salmonella's strong virulence effect, which could lead to better treatments while unlocking an important piece to the puzzle.
Researchers will continue to work to try and better understand Salmonella's gene expression, with future Salmonella space research likely in the future.
Salmonella most recently made headlines when peanut butter manufacturers were forced to issue an industry wide peanut butter recall that could cause $1 billion in lost production and sales for the industry.