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Space Bacteria is Mutating Inside the International Space Station

“These are stressful, harsh conditions. Does the environment select for superbugs because they have an advantage?”

The “stressful, harsh conditions” are the inside of the International Space Station … conditions that the Russian space program suggested last year could drive a lonely and stressed astronaut to sabotage the ship by drilling a tiny hole (unproven and unlikely but the cause of the hole in the attached Soyuz capsule is still up in the air – pun intended) in order to trigger an emergency and be sent home. If the conditions on the ISS are bad for humans, what about their fellow passengers – the bacteria they bring with them on their bodies, their ships and their cargo? Could the hole have been secretly drilled by superbugs intent on taking over the ship and possibly the planet?

“The built environment contains a variety of microorganisms, some of which pose critical human health risks (e.g., hospital-acquired infection, antibiotic resistance dissemination). We uncovered a combination of complex biological functions that may play a role in bacterial survival under the presumed selective pressures in a model built environment—the International Space Station—by using an approach to compare pangenomes of bacterial strains from two clinically relevant species (B. cereus and S. aureus) isolated from both built environments and humans.”

In a new study entitled “Pangenomic Approach To Understanding Microbial Adaptations within a Model Built Environment, the International Space Station, Relative to Human Hosts and Soil,” Northwestern University assistant professor of environmental engineering and study co-author Erica Hartmann describes how a team of researchers compared particularly dangerous bacteria on Earth — S. aureus is the staph-causing super-bane of hospitals – to samples of the same found on the ISS.