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Microscopic passengers to hitch ride on space shuttle

ies have indicated that spaceflight weakens the human immune system and that some microbes become more virulent when grown under conditions that simulate spaceflight, thus increasing the risk of astronauts becoming sick during flight. Whatever the mission or its duration, microbes are present where there are human beings.

This experiment will focus on investigating the effects of spaceflight on three microorganisms commonly found where human beings live. The results will be used in the risk assessment of crew environmental conditions, including drinking water and breathable atmosphere, to help prevent contamination and contagious infection while in space. Scientists also believe this research some day may benefit people on Earth by leading to new therapies to treat infection.

"This experiment requires only the minimum of space shuttle resources, but it has the potential to greatly advance infectious disease research in space and on the ground," said Steven Hing, the experiment's project manager at NASA Ames, in California's Silicon Valley.

With these 'bugs' already present or with the potential to be present in human-occupied spacecraft, this research is applicable to both current and future long-duration flights, Hing noted. Because the microbes will be contained in Group Activation Pack (GAP) hardware that provides three levels of containment, they will pose no threat of exposure to the astronauts. A total of 12 GAPs will fly on the upcoming mission.

"Spaceflight has been shown to induce key changes in both human and microbial cells that are directly relevant to infectious disease, including changes in immune system function, microbial growth rates, antibiotic resistance, and cell surface properties," explained Nickerson. "It is exciting to think of the potential benefit that research in space holds for translation to the clinical bedside by providing a better understanding of how pathogens cause disease that will lead to new
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Source:Arizona State University


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