Author Topic: Microscopic Passengers to Hitch Ride on Space Shuttle  (Read 1673 times)

Offline jacqmans

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Ruth Dasso Marlaire                                 Aug. 23, 2006
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
650-604-4709 / 9000



When space shuttle Atlantis rockets into space later this week, it will
take along three kinds of microbes so scientists can study how their
genetic responses and their ability to cause disease change.

The "Microbe" experiment, part of the STS-115 space shuttle mission
scheduled for launch Aug. 27, will study three common microorganisms --
Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans --
that have been identified as potential threats to crew health. Sending
these microbes into space will allow scientists to investigate the
microbes' genetic adaptation and ability to cause infectious disease in
microgravity, and to better understand the astronauts' space
environment.  The results of this experiment will help NASA scientists
evaluate the risks to astronauts on future exploration missions planned
to go to the moon and Mars.

"Spaceflight holds tremendous potential for the development of novel
therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics to treat, prevent and control
infectious diseases," said Cheryl A. Nickerson, Ph.D., the experiment's
principal investigator and a researcher at the Biodesign Institute at
Arizona State University, Tempe. "Our Microbe experiment will be the
first to investigate the effects of spaceflight on the disease-causing
potential and gene expression profiles of disease-causing microbes."
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., developed the Microbe
payload for flight.

According to scientists, understanding human biological changes and
microbial responses while living in enclosed quarters in space is
important to the health, safety and performance of crewmembers and
requires further study. The flight microorganisms, which may be carried
to spacecraft on the human body and in water or food, have been
identified as potential threats to astronaut health based on previous
spaceflight missions. Microorganisms also are major causes of human
illness on Earth, according to Nickerson.

Prior studies have indicated that spaceflight weakens the human immune
system and that some microbes become more virulent when grown under
conditions that simulate spaceflight, thus increasing the risk of
astronauts becoming sick during flight. Whatever the mission or its
duration, microbes are present where there are human beings.

This experiment will focus on investigating the effects of spaceflight
on three microorganisms commonly found where human beings live. The
results will be used in the risk assessment of crew environmental
conditions, including drinking water and breathable atmosphere, to help
prevent contamination and contagious infection while in space.
Scientists also believe this research some day may benefit people on
Earth by leading to new therapies to treat infection.

"This experiment requires only the minimum of space shuttle resources,
but it has the potential to greatly advance infectious disease research
in space and on the ground,' said Steven Hing, the experiment's project
manager at NASA Ames, in California's Silicon Valley.

With these "bugs" already present or with the potential to be present
human-occupied spacecraft, this research is applicable to both current
and future long-duration flights, Hing noted. Because the microbes will
be contained in Group Activation Pack (GAP) hardware that provides
levels of containment, they will pose no threat of exposure to the
astronauts. A total of 12 GAPs will fly on the upcoming mission.

"Spaceflight has been shown to induce key changes in both human and
microbial cells that are directly relevant to infectious disease,
including changes in immune system function, microbial growth rates,
antibiotic resistance, and cell surface properties," explained
Nickerson.  "It is exciting to think of the potential benefit that
research in space holds for translation to the clinical bedside by
providing a better understanding of how pathogens cause disease that
will lead to new ways to treat, prevent and diagnose infectious

For more information about the Microbe research project, visit:

For more information about the Biodesign Institute, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit: