Navigation Links
Shuttle brings space-grown strep bacteria back for study

GALVESTON, Texas When the space shuttle Endeavour touched down at the Kennedy Space Center August 22, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston microbiology and immunology department chairman David Niesel was waiting by the runway, looking forward to a reunion with some of its passengers.

The space travelers Niesel was meeting werent astronauts. They were Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, members of a species commonly found in the human upper respiratory tract but in this case riding in sealed experimental containers in the shuttles mid-deck.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is whats known as an opportunistic bacterium, one thats normally harmless but always ready to exploit the right circumstances and cause full-blown disease. For infants, the elderly and others with weaker-than-normal immune systems possibly including astronauts on long space flights it can be quite dangerous.

Strep pneumoniae is a very potent pathogen in people who are immunosuppressed its the number-one cause of community-acquired pneumonia, and a leading mediator of bacteremia [bacterial blood infections] and meningitis, Niesel said. Theres a decline in peoples immune function the longer theyre in the space environment, and its been shown that other bacteria also alter their properties in microgravity they grow faster, they tend to be more virulent and resistant to microbial treatment.

Niesel and other investigators want to know exactly how Streptococcus pneumoniae changes in microgravity and whether those changes could pose a threat to crew members on a mission with no chance of a quick return to Earth for example, a months- or years-long journey to Mars and back. In 1999, they began work on SPEGIS (Streptococcus pneumoniae Expression of Genes in Space), a project to grow the bacteria in orbit and bring them back home frozen in zero-g mode for study.

Eight years later, six tightly sealed vials of the bugs were launched into orbit in a cold-storage experiment locker that kept them inactivated at about 39 degrees Fahrenheit. To make sure that the shuttle crew would not be exposed to a potential pathogen, the vials themselves were also packed into two sealed aluminum canisters.

On day five of the mission, with the shuttle docked to the International Space Station, the crew raised the canisters and their contents to just above human body temperature and incubated them there for 15 and a half hours. Then they transferred them to a super-cold freezer on the ISS, which dropped the temperature of the canisters to 139 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

That locked the bacteria at whatever stage they were at, whatever genes they were expressing and whatever proteins they had present were locked in, because no more metabolism was occurring, Niesel said. So we get a picture of what they were like in space at that time, which is the cool part.

Control experiments conducted on Earth followed every step of the process as it was done in orbit, with canister transfers even timed to the minute. Now we have two snapshots of the bacteria frozen in time, grown with the same parameters except the microgravity part, and we should be able to see the differences that result when the bacteria see this unique space environment, Niesel continued.

The bacteria are expected to arrive in Galveston later this week or early next week, kept cold with dry ice all the way to maintain them just as they were in orbit. Once he gets the bacteria in his lab, Niesel plans to conduct complete protein and genetic analyses, as well as possible virulence studies in laboratory mice.

Seeing the Endeavour land was the culmination of many years of preparation, persistence and uncertainty we were originally scheduled to fly shortly after the Columbia accident but its been worth the wait to get the chance to make one of the first studies of an opportunistic pathogen in space, Niesel said. We think it will provide important information for understanding the adaptation of bacteria to unique environments, and begin to answer the question of whether this species is a cause for concern for long-duration space travelers."


Contact: Jim Kelly
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Related biology news :

1. Microscopic passengers to hitch ride on space shuttle
2. Sandia work launched on space shuttle shows live cells influence growth of nanostructures
3. Innovative collaboration brings Arctic science into the classroom
4. Proteomics brings researchers closer to understanding microbes that produce acid mine drainage
5. Penicillin, amoxicillin: Step aside for strep throat treatment
6. Anti-bacterial additive widespread in U.S. waterways
7. Bacteria collection sheds light on urinary tract infections
8. A bacterial genome reveals new targets to combat infectious disease
9. Solution to Pollution: New Bacteria Eats Toxic Waste
10. Discovery of key proteins shape could lead to improved bacterial pneumonia vaccine
11. The Bacterias guide to survival
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/9/2016)... June 9, 2016 Paris ... Teleste,s video security solution to ensure the safety of people ... during the major tournament Teleste, an international ... and services, announced today that its video security solution will ... to back up public safety across the country. The system ...
(Date:6/2/2016)... June 2, 2016 Perimeter Surveillance ... Unmanned Systems, Physical Infrastructure, Support & Other Service  ... visiongain offers comprehensive analysis of the global ... will generate revenues of $17.98 billion in 2016. ... Inc, a leader in software and hardware technologies for ...
(Date:5/12/2016)... May 12, 2016 , a ... the overview results from the Q1 wave of its ... wave was consumers, receptivity to a program where they ... a health insurance company. "We were surprised ... says Michael LaColla , CEO of Troubadour Research, ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... 2016 Epic Sciences unveiled a liquid ... to PARP inhibitors by targeting homologous recombination deficiency ... new test has already been incorporated into numerous ... types. Over 230 clinical trials are ... including PARP, ATM, ATR, DNA-PK and WEE-1. Drugs ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica ... in people with peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a ... , Diagnostic biomarkers are signposts in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... 2016 , ... UAS LifeSciences, one of the leading manufacturers ... Probiotics, into Target stores nationwide. The company, which has been manufacturing high quality ... list of well-respected retailers. This list includes such fine stores as Whole Foods, ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - FACIT has ... Ontario biotechnology company, Propellon Therapeutics Inc. ... and commercialization of a portfolio of first-in-class WDR5 ... targets such as WDR5 represent an exciting class ... in precision medicine for cancer patients. Substantial advances ...
Breaking Biology Technology: