Researchers discover bacteria thrive in zero-gravity low nutrient environment

Nov 08, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Researchers discover bacteria thrive in zero-gravity low nutrient environment
Credit: BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:241. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-241

( —A team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York, working with Lockheed-Martin Ames Research Center has found that one strain of a common type of bacteria thrives aboard space vehicles, even when faced with minimal nutrients. In their paper published in BMC Microbiology, the researchers describe an experiment they conducted aboard NASA Shuttle Atlantis that showed that Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a very common type of bacteria, grows more dense cultures when in space than it does on Earth when available nutrients are restricted.

P. aeruginosa, is one of the strains of responsible for urinary tract and other types of infections in people. The researchers chose it to study as a means of learning more about the ways bacteria that actually infect people might behave in a zero-gravity environment. Such research is important as agencies contemplate longer missions at much farther distances.

In this latest effort, the researchers added the bacteria to several containers of simulated urine that were put aboard one of the last Shuttle missions—each with a different mix of nutrients and amount of bacteria. Astronauts aboard the shuttle were able to monitor bacterial growth as were researchers on the team after the samples were brought back home.

In analyzing the results, the researchers found that after 72 hours when fed an abundance of nutrients P. aeruginosa concentrations in space were nearly identical to those of Earth-bound samples. But, when the nutrients were greatly reduced, the researchers found that the bacteria in space kept up the same pace—concentrations of the bacteria were nearly the same as those that had been given a lot of nutrients. Those bacteria in the lab back on Earth, on the other hand, when fed the same small amount, showed far less growth.

The study indicates that scientists designing systems to protect future astronauts against bacterial infections, headed for places like Mars, may have their hands full. P. aeruginosais is a type of bacteria that could very easily infect human waste processing systems. Also getting rid of such colonies would be difficult as they are notoriously difficult to eradicate here on Earth. Now that it's known they can thrive with even fewer available , the problem becomes even harder to solve.

Explore further: Spaceflight alters bacterial social networks

More information: Effect of spaceflight on Pseudomonas aeruginosa final cell density is modulated by nutrient and oxygen availability, BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:241. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2180-13-241

Related Stories

Spaceflight alters bacterial social networks

Aug 15, 2013

When astronauts launch into space, a microbial entourage follows. And the sheer number of these followers would give celebrities on Twitter a run for their money. The estimate is that normal, healthy adults ...

Bacteria sent into space behave in mysterious ways

Jun 25, 2013

( —Colonies of bacteria grown aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis behaved in ways never before observed on Earth, according to a new NASA-funded study from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

21 hours ago

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

Apr 18, 2014

( —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

Apr 17, 2014

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 08, 2013
The clinical definition of 'death' may well have to be different for Prokaryotes, Eukaryotes, & Viruses.
not rated yet Nov 09, 2013
Does this raise the possibility of panspermia? Life on Mars? There's gotta be some type of implication here.

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.