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Tuesday, September 25th 2007

Deadly Space Bugs


Just Call Him Michael Nostracrichton

Not often my interest in space flight and medicine kind’ve come together…at least not in the mainstream media, but here we have a prelim story to The Andromeda Strain. I first heard this on NPR, but here’s an AP piece on how salmonella bacteria sent into space returned more potent…

The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space.

After the shuttle returned, mice were given varying oral doses of the salmonella and then were watched.

After 25 days, 40 percent of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10 percent of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.

The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.

The gene changes associated with the increased disease burden aren’t completely understood in terms of how they make the bacteria more potent and why the changes occurred while in space.

“These bugs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The minute they sense a different environment, they change their genetic machinery so they can survive,” she said.

The findings are being published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science.

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