Orbiting 250 miles above Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) is home to a handful of scientists and astronauts who constantly inhabit the orbital station – and a host of microbes that have come to reside on board the research center. Among these microbes, scientists have recently discovered five strains of Enterobacter – a hospital-resistant drug virus known to cause a number of dangerous infections, reports RT.
The fact that germs can be found on the ISS is hardly a revelation – "Where there are people, there are bacteria, even in space," NASA said a few years ago when the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California . , has published a study on microbes found in dust particles collected from space station air filters.
However, find five different varieties of Enterobacter aboard the orbital laboratory could pose a threat to future space station expeditions, especially given the drug-resistant profile of the bacterial strains.
According Phys.org, the five strains of Enterobacter were isolated from the ISS in March 2015 and were discovered inside the unit's spatial toilet and on the exercise platform that astronauts use to maintain shape and combat life-associated muscle atrophy in a microgravity environment.
Upon discovering these bacteria, JPL launched an investigation into the genetic makeup of each individual strain and found that all of them were genetically similar to three Enterobacter recently identified strains on Earth. Known as Enterobacter bugandensis, these three strains of bacteria "were found to cause disease in neonates and a compromised patient who was admitted to three different hospitals" – two in the US and one in East Africa, said JPL microbiologist Kasthuri Venkateswaran in a statement.
Hospital bug found on ISS! Infectious organisms & # 39; are alive aboard the international space station, #NASA reveals https://t.co/LFvjseETi2
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Writing in the newspaper Microbiology BMCVenkateswaran and his colleagues emphasized that the new ISS microbes are not harmful to the space station crew in their current form. However, the computational simulations conducted by the JPL team showed that Enterobacter bugandensis discovered in space has a 79% chance of becoming pathogenic – which means it can end up infecting astronauts and causing disease.
"Given the results of multiple drug resistance for these ISS E. bugandensis genomes and the increased chances of pathogenicity we identify, these species represent potentially important health considerations for future missions, "said lead author Dr. Nitin Singh, a researcher at JPL's Planetary Protection and Biotechnology Group.
"However, it is important to understand that strains found on ISS were not virulent, which means they are not an active threat to human health, but something to be monitored."
In order to determine the genetic profile of the spatial bugs, the scientists compared the five Enterobacter bugandensis strains for the genomes of nearly 1,300 Enterobacter strains collected on Earth. The analysis revealed that the ISS bacteria were resistant to five of the most commonly used antibiotics, including penicillin and oxacillin. In addition, the microbes were resistant, resistant to intermediates or susceptible to four other antibiotics.
Supernatural Mutants Threaten Future Space Station Expeditions – NASA https://t.co/AKt6dlKYLP pic.twitter.com/xdxSyRGYOI
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While the new study shows that the hospital problem found on the ISS could cause problems for future astronaut missions, the team emphasized that more research is needed before anyone can establish Enterobacter bugandensis could be in space.
"The fact that an opportunistic pathogen such as E. bugandensis causes disease or not depends on a number of factors, including environmental factors," Venkateswaran said.
The unique conditions aboard the ISS – which include microgravity, space radiation and high levels of carbon dioxide – are known to increase microbial resistance to antibiotics, notes RT. This means that the Enterobacter bugandensis found in space may end up becoming more virulent over time.
According AntiMicrobe.org, Enterobacter bacteria can cause a wide range of infections that can affect the lungs, lower respiratory tract and urinary tract. These microbes are also known to produce ophthalmic, cutaneous and soft tissue infections as well as intra-abdominal infections. A particular variety of Enterobacter, called E. sakazakii, has been associated with sepsis with meningitis in newborns.