Academic journal article Science and Children

Microbes in Space

Academic journal article Science and Children

Microbes in Space

Article excerpt

Space flight has been shown to have a profound impact on human physiology as the body adapts to zero-gravity environments. A new study, led by researchers from Arizona State University's (ASU) Biodesign Institute has shown that the tiniest passengers flown in space--microbes--can be equally affected by space flight, making them more infectious pathogens.

"Space flight alters cellular and physiological responses in astronauts, including the immune response," explains Cheryl Nickerson, who led a project aboard NASA's space shuttle mission STS-115 involving an international collaboration between NASA, ASU, and 12 other research institutions. "However, relatively little was known about microbial changes to infectious disease risk in response to space flight."

To study the effects, researchers sent specially contained tubes of salmonella in an experimental payload aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. The tubes of bacteria were placed in triple containment for safety and posed no threat to the health and safety of the crew. During the flight, astronaut Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper activated growth of the bacteria in sealed hardware and "fixed" the cultures after a day of growth to determine changes in gene and protein expression levels.

As a synchronous control experiment back on Earth, Nickerson's team grew an identical set of bacteria in the same type of tubes used for flight and incubated them in a special room at the NASA Kennedy Space Center called the "orbital environmental simulator. …

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