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Microbes: IIT-M helps NASA study microbes in ISS | Chennai News

CHENNAI: Microbes found in the International Space Station (ISS) mutate faster to cope with the extreme environment, a study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and IIT Madras have found. It may lead to methods to contain microbial contamination in hospitals as much as in spacecraft.
The researchers studied multi-drug resistant pathogens with a particular focus on Enterobacter bugandensis, a nosocomial pathogen found on the surfaces within ISS, where they probably arrived by riding piggyback on astronauts.This pathogen is primarily found in the human gastro-intestinal tract.

While JPL studied samples collected from ISS, IIT M researchers worked on genome sequencing and modelling. By mapping the prevalence and distribution of E. bugandensis over time, the study which was published in the Microbiome journal recently, provides insights into its persistence, succession, and potential colonisation patterns in space.
IIT M researchers obtained 211 assembled genomes, annotated as E. bugandensis, from National Center for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI) GenBank sequence database. Among these, 12 were isolated from three locations aboard ISS. “They are adapting and mutating very fast,” said professor Karthik Raman of department of data science and AI, Wadhwani School of Data Science and AI (WSAI), IIT Madras, and one of the researchers.
“They are harder to get rid of, but their amount on ISS is very low and hence the possibility of infection is rare. But astronauts may have slightly lower immunity due to the tough conditions. If they get infected, it would be hard to treat,” he said. The findings shed light on microbial behaviour, adaptation, and evolution in extreme, isolated environments and underscore the need for preventive measures, ensuring the health and safety of astronauts. Distinct from their counterparts on earth, the pathogen’s strains exhibited resistance that categorise them within the ESKAPE pathogen group, a collection of pathogens recognised for their formidable resistance to antimicrobial treatments.
The findings hold promise for applications in controlled settings on earth, including hospital intensive care units and surgical theatres, where multidrug-resistant pathogens pose significant challenges to patient care. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, senior research scientist at JPL, NASA, said, “Our research uncovers microbial community interactions of how certain benign microorganisms help adapt and survive opportunistic human pathogen, E. bugandensis.

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