Science Space

Scientists discover “Shape-Shifting” Bacteria on ISS for first time ever !


A finding has come to light about the survival of microbes on NASA’s International Space Station (ISS). Bacteria cells found changing their shapes even after getting treated with regular antibiotics.

The research has made at the University of Colorado by the team of researchers which led by Dr Luis Zea. 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.

Researchers along-with CU Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies exposed in an experiment which got done in zero gravity environment and conducted aboard the ISS that E. coli bacteria can “shape-shift” smartly and survive even after in the various doses of antibiotic gentamicin sulphate. Usually, the antibiotic kills the bacteria in the environment of earth. Whereas, in space, the results were unusual because exposure to gentamicin sulphate followed to 13-fold increase in bacterial cell numbers and 73 percent reduction in cell volume size. According to the researchers, this kind of morphism is helping the bacteria to survive in the space.

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.

A paper published in Frontiers in Microbiology explains how the bacteria function in the environment which lacks gravity-driven forces such as buoyancy and sedimentation.

According to the Dr Luis Zea, it takes high concentrations of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. He also informed that during the experiments, the team conducted a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of the bacteria.

Dr Zea found that a decrease in the bacteria’s cell surface area also decreases the rate at which molecules can interact with it. This makes the bacteria more impermeable to antibiotics. As per reaction, the cell walls and outer membranes of the bacteria got thicker, which probably granted even more protection.

Also, the bacteria grew in clumps, which is a possible defensive act where the inner cells get protected from the shell of the outer cells from the antibiotics, the researchers said. Eventually, E.coli cells produced small capsules, commonly known as membrane vesicles, on the outside of their cell walls, which could help to simplify the infection process in theory.

In a statement, UC Boulder microbiologist Luis Zea, who lead the study said that the increase in cell envelope thickness and in the outer membrane vesicles both perhaps indicative of drug resistance mechanisms being activated in the spaceflight samples.

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.”


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  • Did anyone that speaks English proof this article before it was posted? Although very interested in the topic, I gave up reading it halfway through because I kept getting tripped up with missing words, horrible grammar and just poor writing overall. Take this phrase for example: ” in an experiment which got done in zero gravity environment”. Which “got done in”? Really? How about “which was performed in”? And then “got done in zero gravity environment”. How about “in a zero gravity environment” (emphasis on the simple, but important, little word “a”).

    This is becoming widespread among the internet as everyone rushes out stories. What happened to the art of writing and taking pride in your output?

    • My thought exactly. I’m glad I was able to attend schools that insisted on basic reading and writing skills as the key to educating ourselves. Those were the days of looking things up in the library. Something has gone missing in the job skills dept. lately.

  • I can imagine it now. Mysterious bacteria infects ISS astronauts who seem to have developed an unnatural affinity for human flesh. “NASA will be bringing them back to Earth for further study.” Get your bug out bag equipped and ready, and sharpen that machete. The zombie horde is coming. lol.

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