Researchers discover mutant bacteria aboard ISS

It adapted to life in microgravity and helped other microorganisms survive.

The International Space Station (ISS) has long been recognized as an extraordinary environment for experiments and studying microorganisms in microgravity is a favorite theme for researchers.

Recently, scientists from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) discovered that the drug-resistant Enterobacter bugandensis bacteria populating the space station mutated into something different from genetical and functional point of view.

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NASA announced in a press release that when subjected to stress, the isolated strains on the ISS underwent genetic mutations, leading to significant differences compared to their counterparts on Earth.

These mutated strains not only managed to persist in the ISS environment over time but also interacted with and supported the survival of other microorganisms.

As detailed in a paper published in the journal Microbiome, the JPL scientists identified 13 unique strains of this gastrointestinal bacteria, initially discovered in 2018 and associated with severe illnesses like sepsis in newborns. These strains were collected from various locations within the ISS, along with the array of other unpleasant microorganisms contributing to the station's distinctive odor. 

NASA's ongoing microbial tracking mission involves astronauts scraping the walls of the ISS and examining samples under microscopes. This initiative aims to study potentially harmful viruses, fungi, and bacteria, including E. bugandensis, which seem to thrive and even become more resistant to drugs in the extreme environment. 

The findings reveal that E. bugandensis not only survived but evolved greater drug resistance, joining the league of pathogens notorious for their formidable resistance to antimicrobial treatments.

It is not clear whether the mutated pathogens are dangerous for life down on Earth and how they can be neutralized. Now they are alien forms of life.

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