Good news: space bacteria (probably) aren’t evolving to destroy us

Popular Science | 1/10/2019 | Staff
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We’ve all read science fiction stories about a disease going rogue on a space ship, decimating the crew. While space holds plenty of other terrors, new research suggests that bacteria we bring with us from Earth are more likely to evolve to survive alongside the spaceship’s human crew.

Bacteria are inescapable, wherever life exists. That includes all built environments, from houses to the International Space Station. However, scientists have only started to study how microbes adapt to these living conditions. “There are a lot of questions about how space flight and space conditions will affect organisms including microbes,” says Erica Hartmann, Northwestern University microbiologist and environmental engineer and author of a new paper that holds answers for at least some of those questions.

Humans - Space - Systems - People - Infection

Humans living in space have weakened immune systems, which potentially makes spacefaring people more vulnerable to infection. How bacteria respond is less well-documented, and there have been some concerns that they’ll adapt to space conditions in ways that will make them harmful to humans. The new study, published this week in the journal mSystems, offers a promising hint that in space, bacteria are just adapting to survive.

Hartmann and her colleagues compared the genomes of microbes from the International Space Station and ones here on Earth. Unlike humans, who generally carry the same genes, bacteria can differ—even within the same species. Of course, not all humans are identical, but we all carry the same kinds of genetic information: we may have brown or blue eyes, but almost all of us are born with the genes that create peepers of some sort. For bacteria, “it would sort of be the equivalent of some of the bacteria in a species having wings and some having arms,” says Hartmann.

Bacteria - Staphylococcus - Aureus - Bacillus - Cereus

They looked at two common bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus. “We picked these two...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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