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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

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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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).

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