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Engineer to launch bacteria into space aboard the final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis
Date:6/27/2011

Troy, N.Y. There will be some very interesting passengers on the final mission of the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis scheduled to launch July 8, 2011: thousands of bacteria.

Cynthia Collins, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, is leading a series of experiments called Micro-2A that will be aboard the shuttle during its scheduled 12-day mission. The research seeks to understand how microgravity changes the way potentially dangerous bacteria grows. In particular, the research will examine how they form difficult-to-kill colonies called biofilms. The research has important implications for protecting astronauts while they are in space in enclosed and difficult-to-clean spaces, such as the International Space Station, or during extended space missions deeper into our solar system. It also provides new information in the fight against ever-more virulent bacterial infections such as staph, food poisoning, sepsis, and pneumonia.

Partnering with Collins on the project are nanobiotechnology expert Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer and director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and thin films expert Joel Plawsky, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The NASA Ames Research Center is funding the experiment.

This is the second time that Collins' research will be included on the shuttle. Her research on bacteria was also aboard the shuttle mission that launched May 14, 2010. Collins has been analyzing the results of this previous work and will use this new series of experiments to test some of the results she has seen.

"We are clearly seeing altered biofilm formation during space flight," she said. "There are some clear differences between the amount of biofilm formed in normal gravity and microgravity. These differences also appear to be organism dependent, wi
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Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
demarg@rpi.edu
518-276-6542
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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