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ASU team studying bacteria in space

Posted at 10:54 AM, Jul 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-22 13:54:47-04

Researchers at Arizona State University are planning to send two separate experiments to the International Space Station by the end of the year aimed at improving the health and well-being of astronauts.

“We started our whole work with NASA to understand the impact of spaceflight on microbial responses that lead to infectious disease,” said Dr. Cheryl Nickerson, who has been involved with nine separate spaceflight missions.

Nickerson and her team of students are planning to conduct the first long-form duration study on salmonella in space. The bacteria “actually becomes a better pathogen in space,” Nickerson said. "It becomes more robust, it becomes better able to cause infectious disease, it becomes more resistant to stresses that your body normally throws at it including your immune system.”
The team wants to better understand how microgravity can affect the development of salmonella and other bacterias which pose a major risk to astronauts. They are also looking at ways to prevent bacterial buildup — known as “biofilm” — in the ISS’s water pipes and life support systems.

“It previously caused the Russian side of the ISS to form a thick toothpaste-like biofilm in it,” Nickerson said. “The crew couldn’t drink, they had to come to the U.S. side.”

Perhaps just as important as their research for astronauts is translating the results of their experiments for use on Earth.

“We want to understand from spaceflight how those processes might be better treated down here as well,” Nickerson said.

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