Bacteria turn nastier in space experiment
( Reuters ) - Bacteria that became more dangerous in space may help scientists design better antibiotics on Earth, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
They found that a type of Salmonella that causes food poisoning became more virulent after spending 12 days at near-zero gravity in the space shuttle, killing more mice than Earthbound bacteria and killing them more quickly.
Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might help protect both astronauts and people infected on the ground, said Cheryl Nickerson of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University.
"I don't think it's scary," Nickerson, who led the study, said in a telephone interview. "The cells aren't doing anything new. We just hadn't cultured them under these conditions."
Being in space did not cause the bacteria to do anything they cannot do on Earth, Nickerson said, but it did filter out the effects of gravity, allowing scientists to isolate some of the natural processes that are going on.
Her team sent flasks of Salmonella typhimurium bacteria aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in September 2006.
Identical cultures were grown at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at the same time. They examined both batches genetically and tested them in mice as well.
Not only did the space bacteria kill more mice more quickly, but they showed different genetic activity than non-traveling bacteria.