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Spacebound bacteria inspire earthbound remedies
Date:3/21/2011

WASHINGTON -- Recent research aboard the Space Shuttle is giving scientists a better understanding of how infectious disease occurs in space and could someday improve astronaut health and provide novel treatments for people on Earth.

The research involves an opportunistic pathogen known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the same bacterium that caused astronaut Fred Haise to become sick during the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970.

Scientists studying the bacterium aboard the Shuttle hope to unlock the mysteries of how disease-causing agents work. They believe the research can lead to advanced vaccines and therapies to better fight infections. The findings are based on flight experiments with microbial pathogens on NASA space shuttle missions to the station and appear in a recent edition of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"For the first time, we're able to see that two very different species of bacteria - Salmonella and Pseudomonas - share the same basic regulating mechanism, or master control switch, that micro-manages many of the microbes' responses to the spaceflight environment," said Cheryl Nickerson, associate professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. "We have shown that spaceflight affects common regulators in both bacteria that invariably cause disease in healthy individuals [Salmonella] and those that cause disease only in people with compromised immune systems [Pseudomonas]."

By studying the global gene expression patterns in bacterial pathogens like Pseudomonas and Salmonella, Nickerson's team learned more about how they react to reduced gravity.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa can coexist as a benign microbe in healthy individuals, but poses a serious threat to people with compromised immune systems. It is the leading cause of death for those
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
Joseph.Caspermeyer@asu.edu
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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