Shape-shifting bacteria found on International Space Station


A new finding has been made regarding the survival of microbes on NASA’s International Space Station (ISS). Bacterial cells which were treated using a common antibiotic were found changing their shape.

Utilization of Diet Trackers in Space

This newly spotted phenomenon of the bacteria in near-weightlessness environments could cause a grave problem in medicating astronauts diagnosed with infections. This finding made by a group of researchers from the University of Colorado led by Dr Luis Zea.

E coli bacteria experimented on in the near-zero gravity environment. As “shapeshift” smartly and survive subjected to antibiotic gentamicin sulphate in varying concentrations. The drug antibiotic gentamicin known for killing microorganisms on Earth.

When compared to a control group of the bacteria on Earth, the microbe portrayed a 13-fold rise in the cell numbers along with a reduction of 73 percent in the cell column size.

“We knew bacteria behave differently in space and that it takes higher concentrations of antibiotics to kill them,” Dr Luis Zea stated.

“What’s new is that we conducted a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of the bacteria during the experiments,” he added.

Bacteria functions in the near-weightlessness environments. Lacking of gravity-driven forces such as buoyancy and sedimentation explained.

According to Dr Zea, the ISS bacteria could ingest the drugs or nutrients through natural diffusion because the environment has no gravity-driven forces. The surface of the bacterial cell reduced in space and the molecule-cell interaction decreased too.

Membrane Vesicles

Another finding made by the researchers was that the outer membrane and cell wall of the bacteria. It comprises the bacterial cell wall had thickened in space and was shielding the bacteria from the antibiotic.

Dr Zea also found that the microbe tended to form in clumps. Believed to be a defensive manoeuvre that could involve the outer cells protecting the inner cells from antibiotics.

Moreover, some microbes even found producing membrane vesicles. Like small capsules formed outside the cell walls and acted as messengers to communicate with each-other, Dr Zea revealed.

On reaching a critical mass, these cells could synchronize to commence the infection process. Both the increase in cell envelope thickness and in the outer membrane vesicles may be indicative of drug resistance. The mechanisms activated in the space flight samples,” said Dr Zea.

Research to improve communications during natural disasters

Finally, this experiment and others like it give us the opportunity to better understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics here on Earth,” Dr Zea concluded.