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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
(PNAS).

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.



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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 (blog) 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 (blog) 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!


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