Mutated bacteria resistant to drugs found on the ISS: What does this mean and why is it a problem?

April 24, 2024  14:15

There are a lot of different bacteria on the International Space Station (ISS), despite all efforts to keep it clean, because where there are people, there will be germs. And almost 300 people have visited the station over the past twenty-four years. Researchers from India, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, analyzed strains of bacteria on the ISS and compared them with the same bacteria on Earth and found that space microorganisms differ from local ones both functionally and and genetically. Moreover, they are more resistant to drug effects.

What does this mean and what consequences can it lead to?

Living organisms are always evolving and strive to adapt to their environment. In space, in this case, on the ISS, humanity has created a completely new environment - a sealed bubble with recycled air, high radiation and microgravity. And since bacteria multiply very quickly, in a new environment their development follows a slightly different path, and therefore very soon they begin to differ from their “relatives” on Earth.

The researchers focused on the bacterium Enterobacter bugandensis, which has successfully adapted to life on the ISS. From images from the station, researchers isolated 13 strains of this bacterium. E. bugandensis typically lives in the human digestive tract and can cause infections in some cases, especially in infants.

E. bugandensis found in ISS samples was found to be more resistant to antibiotics. In addition, they have a greater ability to support the presence of other microorganisms, in particular gram-positive bacteria such as Staphylococcus saprophyticus.

While the study does not address the possible effects of mutated E. bugandensis on astronauts, it is something space agencies should consider in the future. The fact of the existence of such bacteria raises a number of questions and possible problems.

Thus, some governments and private aerospace companies are planning to create several new space stations that will be used for scientific and commercial purposes, as well as for tourism. As a result, many more people will be exposed to new microorganisms and potentially contract infections that will be very difficult to treat with existing antibiotics, and the development of new ones will be very, very difficult.

So, if antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more common in space over time, it could pose serious health risks to astronauts and make it more difficult to maintain their health during space travel. Moreover, one can only speculate about the consequences of the spread of new drug-resistant bacteria on Earth, where today there is already a rather serious problem with antibiotic resistance.

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