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Microscopic passengers to hitch ride on space shuttle

When space shuttle Atlantis rockets into space later this week, it will take along three kinds of microbes so scientists can study how their genetic responses and their ability to cause disease change.

The 'Microbe' experiment, part of the STS-115 space shuttle mission scheduled for launch Aug. 27, will study three common microorganisms -- Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans -- that have been identified as potential threats to crew health. Sending these microbes into space will allow scientists to investigate the microbes' genetic adaptation and ability to cause infectious disease in microgravity, and to better understand the astronauts' space environment. The results of this experiment will help NASA scientists evaluate the risks to astronauts on future exploration missions planned to go to the moon and Mars.

"Spaceflight holds tremendous potential for the development of novel therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics to treat, prevent and control infectious diseases," said Cheryl A. Nickerson, Ph.D., the experiment's principal investigator and a researcher at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, Tempe. "Our Microbe experiment will be the first to investigate the effects of spaceflight on the disease-causing potential and gene expression profiles of disease-causing microbes." NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., developed the Microbe payload for flight.

According to scientists, understanding human biological changes and microbial responses while living in enclosed quarters in space is important to the health, safety and performance of crewmembers and requires further study. The flight microorganisms, which may be carried to spacecraft on the human body and in water or food, have been identified as potential threats to astronaut health based on previous spaceflight missions. Microorganisms also are major causes of human illness on Earth, according to Nickerson.

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Source:Arizona State University


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