Shape-shifting bacteria aboard ISS found immune to antibiotics

Scientists have always been aware of the fact that it’s harder to kill microbes at near-weightless conditions. To know the reason behind this fact, scientists at ISS recently doused a batch of E.coli bacteria with antibiotic which provided the scientists with startling insights into the physical changes that helped the bacteria in surviving the antibiotic and thriving in space.

However hard we try to deny, these microbes are present everywhere and even as we venture into space, we carry some with us into the endless space. So it is highly necessary that we learn as much as we can about these bacteria strains which may or may not harm the astronauts in future space ventures with life-threatening conditions. A close study of the bacteria can help prevent problematic “biofilm” formation inside the ISS or any other spacecraft.

According to previous studies, bacteria behave in a different way in space. They undergo many specific mutations that make them better at reproduction and dodge the effects of antibiotics. The Frontiers in Microbiology published a new study conducted by the scientists to study the physical changes in bacteria, more specifically the E.coli strain on coming in contact with antibiotics.

This research has provided in-depth knowledge about the bacteria’s adaptability to antibiotics. In the experiment conducted aboard the ISS, researchers with CU Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies exposed cultures of E.coli bacteria with different concentrations of antibiotic Gentamicin Sulphate. This antibiotic is strong enough to kill bacteria on Earth but as demonstrated during this experiment, bacteria in space provide a different story.

The antibiotic instead of killing the bacteria resulted in a 13-fold increase in cell count and about 73% decrease in cell volume as compared to the control group down on Earth being treated similarly. According to the researchers, this dramatic shape-shifting is the likely cause of the bacteria being resistant towards antibiotics.

The significant decrease of volume decreases its surface interaction with the antibiotic thus increasing the chance of resistance. The strain aboard ISS had thicker cell walls and outer membranes and even had further protection features, denote the conclusions derived during this study.

This study can help scientists develop stronger antibiotics pertaining any future infection by these bacteria to astronauts and even Earth bound people. It could also provide an insight into their strengths which in turn can help reveal their weakness too.

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