Even though building micro gravity space stations may be cheaper in the long run, it may not be the healthiest choice for future colonists.
In a cruel twist of fate, it seems that micro gravity not only weakens our immune system, but ironically strengthens the defenses of dangerous bacteria.
(Space.com) Bacteria express different sets of genes in different environments to ensure their survival. Inhospitable conditions, for example, can turn on a "master switch" in some bacteria and allow the microbes to form tough spores that can survive the extreme conditions of space.
Prior to Nickerson and her team's study, the genetic behavior of Salmonella typhimurium--the main culprit in cases of food poisoning and typhoid fever--was unknown. The microbe poses a significant threat to astronauts during spaceflight, especially because it is resistant to many antibiotic treatments.
The researchers' experiment revealed that a genetic switch called "Hfq," which may control more than 160 genes in S. typhimurium, turns on in space and causes S. typhimurium to become three times more virulent than on the Earth's surface.
Researchers are currently working on ways to thwart this gene, as it could benefit humanity here down on Earth. In space however, colonists may have to consider sending along a "space janitor," who can help keep the craft squeaky clean as star ships are already excellent when it comes to growing mold upon the rocket ships walls.
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