Microbes stranded in the International Space Station (ISS) are just trying to survive, man.
A new Northwestern University study has found that—despite its seemingly harsh conditions—the ISS is not causing bacteria to mutate into dangerous, antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
While the team found that the bacteria isolated from the ISS did contain different genes than their Earthling counterparts, those genes did not make the bacteria more detrimental to human health. The bacteria are instead simply responding, and perhaps evolving, to survive in a stressful environment.
"There has been a lot of speculation about radiation, microgravity and the lack of ventilation and how that might affect living organisms, including bacteria," said Northwestern's Erica Hartmann, who led the study. "These are stressful, harsh conditions. Does the environment select for superbugs because they have an advantage? The answer appears to be 'no.'"
The study was published today (Jan. 8) in thejournalmSystems. Hartmann is an assistant professor of environmental engineering in Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering.