Researchers who discovered superbugs living aboard the International Space Station have demanded urgent research on how space affects their development.
Researchers at NASA discovered that five different types of Enterobacter were found in the ISS toilet and fitness area.
Previous studies have shown that bacterial mutation can be "overloaded" when exposed to space conditions, as they adapt to their new environment.
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Researchers at NASA have discovered that five different types of Enterobacter, a bug similar to that found in hospitals, have been found infesting the International Space Station
HOW ROOM CAN MUTATE BUGS
A new study in NPJ Microgravity research found that a bacterium acquired well over a dozen mutation when exposed to space and that these changes make it better for reproduction.
The astronauts aboard the ISS have already encountered thick biofilms of bacteria on their equipment that grow faster than normal.
NASA experts have demanded urgent investigation of the bugs.
"Given the results of several drugs against these ISS genomes and the increased risk of pathogenicity that we have identified, these species potentially pose health problems for future missions," says Dr. Nitin Singh, first author of the paper.
"However, it is important to understand that the strains on ISS are not virulent, which means they do not constitute an active threat to human health, but something to be monitored."
However, according to computer modeling, there is a 79 percent probability that they will develop into a human pathogen and cause disease.
On the ground, some subjects of Enterobacter can infect immunocompromised patients in the intensive care units – and they have high resistance to antibiotics.
The JPL researchers compared their antibiotic resistance with the three clinical trials and found that the space Enterobacter was resistant to cefazoline, cefoxitin, oxacillin, penicillin and rifampin and had varying degrees of resistance to others.
They also found that while the Space Station Enterobacter strains are not currently human pathogenic, they have 112 genes in common with the clinical strains associated with virulence, disease and defense.
Microbiologists with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory regularly analyze microbial samples collected from the space station to see if the space environment affects their populations in any way – and also to see if they pose a danger to either the astronauts health or the sensitive equipment.
"To show what species of bacteria present on the ISS, we used different methods to characterize their genomes in detail.
"We revealed that the genes of the five ISS Enterobacter strains were genetically most similar to three strains that were recently found on Earth," said the microbiologist Kasthuri Venkateswaran.
"These three strains belonged to a species of bacteria, called Enterobacter bugandensis, which has been shown to cause a newborn and a compromised patient's disease, which had access to three different hospitals (in East Africa, Washington and Colorado).
The samples were collected in 2015.
"Whether an opportunistic pathogen like E. bugandensis causes disease and how much of a threat it is depends on a variety of factors, including environments," says Venkateswaran.
"Further in vivo studies are needed to distinguish the impact that conditions on ISS, such as microwaves, other space and spacecraft-related factors may have on pathogenicity and virulence."