Tuesday, August 25, 2009

They Sent Salmonella to the ISS - On Purpose

"Salmonella in Space Get Even Nastier"
Space.com (March 24, 2009)

"Salmonella sent to space have revealed secrets about the disease-causing bacteria that could help treat humans with food poisoning.

"Scientists sent Salmonella bacteria to the International Space Station aboard two space shuttle missions in September 2006 and March 2008. The researchers found that when the bacteria were cultured in the microgravity environment of orbit, they became more virulent than those on Earth...

"...'This research opens up new areas for investigations that may improve food treatment, develop new therapies and vaccines to combat food poisoning in humans here on Earth, and protect astronauts on orbit from infectious disease,' said Julie Robinson, program scientist for the International Space Station at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston...."

Looks like those wonderfully-awful low-budget fifties science fiction movies were on the right track: Bugs get badder in space. Sure, the salmonella microbes didn't grow into ten-ton tentacled terrors: but that's a detail.

Seriously, this article gives a pretty good overview of what's been learned from one experiment on the International Space Station, or ISS. Mainly, it seems, researchers have learned that there's a whole lot they don't know about how salmonella lives and infects.

But, now they've got a better idea of what it is that they don't know.

The article is a trifle technical in spots: "...'To our knowledge, no one had previously looked at a mechanical force like fluid shear on the disease-causing properties of a microorganism during the infection process,'..." for example. But a detailed knowledge of hydrodynamics and biology isn't necessary to get the gist of what's being said.
Edited August 26, 2009

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