According to the experiment conducted by scientists aboard NASA’s International Space Station (ISS), the bacteria essentially shape-shifted when it was exposed to common antibiotics.
As people head further out into space, many are still afraid about what will happen when we meet alien bacterial life. The study discovered that the bacteria could cause the lethal problems to the astronauts which can be severe infections because of the near about weightlessness environment.
Ironically, the odd fact is the drug gentamicin sulphate usually helps in killing micro organisms on Earth But in space, the same drug is helping the bacteria to survive in the hostile environment. In response, these cultured bacteria increased the cell numbers by 13 folds and reduction by 73 percent in the cell volume size as compared to an Earth. This antibiotic is strong enough to kill bacteria on Earth but as demonstrated during this experiment, bacteria in space provide a different story.
As previous studies have shown, bacteria behave differently in space, in some cases acquiring mutations that make them better at reproduction and more resilient to the effects of antibiotics. This dramatic shapeshifting, say the researchers, is likely helping the bacteria to survive.
Without gravity-driven forces, the only way the ISS bacteria can ingest either drugs or nutrients is through natural diffusion. This effectively makes the bacteria more impermeable to foreign substances, such as antibiotics.
Because the bacterial cell surface decreased in space, the rate of molecule-cell interaction was also decreased.
Dr Zea also found that the microbe tended to form in clumps, which was a believed to be a defensive manoeuvre that could involve the outer cells protecting the inner cells from antibiotics.
When these cells reach a critical mass they can synchronise to begin the infection process.
“Both the increase in cell envelope thickness and in the outer membrane vesicles may be indicative of drug resistance mechanisms being activated in the spaceflight samples, ” said Zea.
Dr Zea added, “This experiment and others like it give us the opportunity to better understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics here on Earth”.
The BioServe experiment was launched to ISS in 2014 on a commercial Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft.
After exposure to antibiotics, the cells of space-based bacteria became more plentiful, but smaller.
These findings of the bacteria in near-weightlessness environments could help researchers find new ways in medicating astronauts diagnosed with infections and to thwart high degree of adaptability of bacteria. But travelers into the great beyond may also need to keep a close eye out for the bacteria we already thought we knew.