Magazine article Newsweek

Bacteria Shapeshifts in Space to Defend Itself from Antibiotics-And That's Bad News for Future Astronauts; Experiments on the International Space Station Have Shown How Bacteria Can Effectively Defend Itself

Magazine article Newsweek

Bacteria Shapeshifts in Space to Defend Itself from Antibiotics-And That's Bad News for Future Astronauts; Experiments on the International Space Station Have Shown How Bacteria Can Effectively Defend Itself

Article excerpt

Byline: Hannah Osborne

In space, bacteria "shapeshifts" to defend itself against antibiotics, experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS) have revealed. The discovery potentially poses a big problem for future space travel--as long duration missions happen more frequently, we will need antibiotics to treat sick astronauts. But if space bacteria is able to quickly and effectively develop resistance, common infections could become deadly.

Scientists have known for some time that bacteria behaves differently in space compared to how it does on Earth. It takes higher concentrations of antibiotics to kill it, for example. Exactly how and why this is, however, is unknown.

To find out how bacteria behaves in the microgravity conditions of space, a team of researchers led by Luis Zea from the University of Colorado Boulder sent E. coli samples up to the ISS. From here, they were able to directly compare how the bacteria grew and responded to the antibiotic gentamicin sulfate, which kills it on Earth. "We conducted a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of the bacteria during the experiments," Zea explained in a statement.

The scientists treated the bacteria with different concentrations of the antibiotics to see what effect the drugs had. Their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, showed there was a 13-fold increase in the E. coli cell numbers and a 73 percent decrease in cell size, compared to control bacteria on Earth. The space samples also developed a thicker cell wall and membrane, which the team believes helped the bacteria protect itself from the antibiotic. …

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