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By Andrew Impey

In 2006 the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with an extra special cargo on board - tubes containing Salmonella typhimurium. It may sound like an accident waiting to happen but it was, as always, all in the name of science.

Scientists are inquisitive beasts at the best of times and they were eager to learn what, if anything, would happen to the bacteria on this celestial journey. To their amazement, space travel altered the germs’ genetic behaviour; compared to the bugs back down on Earth, the microbes became almost three times more potent.

The research concluded that one particular protein in the molecular structure was the cause of this increased virulence. With Salmonella having such a detrimental effect on human health, particularly in the developing world, this could have major implications for future global medicine.

In addition, it would be a real bummer if you got all the way to Mars only to get an attack of the stomach cramps and need to run to the toilet. Those space suits can be a bugger to get off in a hurry.

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Hub image: W/Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

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06 Sep 2010
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