Genetic evidence has revealed that even throughout the harsh conditions, bacteria on the International Space Station (ISS) have become adapting to survive, and don’t turn into dangerous, antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The ISS is the house to various thousands of different microbes that have traveled to space either on astronauts or in cargo. Many space agencies are all geared up in sending travelers to Mars, and the interest to travel to Mars has increased. In addition to this, understanding how these microbes would behave in enclosed environments would also be a case of curiosity.
The team of researchers, from Northwestern University in the US, found that the bacteria that were isolated from the ISS was composed of different genes and these genes were not present in the counterparts on the Earth. These didn’t even make the bacteria detrimental to human health, but instead, the bacteria was responding and thereby evolving, in order to survive in a stressful environment.
The lead author Erica Hartmann, who is an Assistant Professor at the institute, in the study published in the journal mSystems said- “There has been a lot of speculations regarding radiation, microgravity and the lack of ventilation and how that might affect living organisms, and this includes bacteria. People will be in little capsules because of which they cannot open windows, go outside or circulate the air for long periods of time. These are stressful, harsh conditions and we are genuinely concerned about how this might affect the microbes.”
The team compared the strains of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria which contains the tough-to-treat MRSA strain; and Bacillus cereus, the bacteria which lives in soil (it has fewer implications for human health) on the ISS with those bacteria present those on Earth.
Ryan Blaustein, a postdoctoral student at the varsity said- “Based on the genomic analysis, it looks like the bacteria have been adapting to live, not evolve to cause disease. We didn’t see anything special regarding the antibiotic resistance or virulence in the space station’s bacteria.“
Although this might sound like good news for astronauts and potential space tourists, Hartmann and Blaustein added that unhealthy people could still spread illness and bacteria on space stations as well as space shuttles.