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Microscopic 'astronauts' to go back in orbit
Date:3/10/2008

When space shuttle Endeavor blasts off on March 11, some tiny astronauts will piggyback onboard an experimental payload from Arizona State Universitys Biodesign Institute.

The new experiment, called Microbial Drug Resistance Virulence is part of the STS-123 space shuttle Endeavor mission. It will continue the research studies of Cheryl Nickerson, PhD, project leader and scientist in the institutes Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology. Nickerson has been at the forefront on studying the risks of germs associated with spaceflight to the health and well being of the crew.

Wherever people go, germs will follow, said Nickerson, who is also an associate professor at ASUs School of Life Sciences. Last fall, she completed a multi-institutional study that showed for the first time that microbes could be affected by spaceflight, making them more infectious pathogens. The results were from a payload flown onboard space shuttle Atlantis in 2006.

Spaceflight not only altered bacterial gene expression but also increased the ability of these organisms to cause disease, or virulence, and did so in novel ways. Compared to identical bacteria that remained on earth, the space-traveling Salmonella, a leading cause of food-borne illness, had changed expression of 167 genes. In addition, bacteria that were flown in space were almost three times as likely to cause disease when compared with control bacteria grown on the ground.

Now, her research team, which includes James Wilson, PhD, Laura Quick, Richard Davis, Emily Richter, Aurelie Crabbe and Shameema Sarker, will have an extraordinarily rare opportunity to fly a repeat experiment of their NASA payload to confirm their earlier results.

We are very fortunate to get a follow up flight opportunity, because in spaceflight, you only get one shot for everything to go just right, said Nickerson. We saw unique bacterial responses in flight and these responses are giving us new information about
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu
480-727-0369
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert

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