Superbugs have colonized the International Space Station—but there's a silver lining

phys.org | 3/19/2019 | Staff
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Astronauts leave behind many things when they boldly go. Bacteria, however, stay with them.

Extreme spaceflight conditions can force these bacteria to toughen up, while simultaneously lowering the immune defenses of the stressed, isolated crew. These effects—and the risk of infection—grow with mission duration.

Researchers - Step - Towards - Space - Exploration

Now researchers have taken another small step towards deep space exploration, by testing a new silver- and ruthenium-based antimicrobial coating aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Published in Frontiers in Microbiology, their study shows that the AGXX dramatically reduced the number of bacteria on contamination-prone surfaces—and could help protect future astronauts beyond the moon and Mars.

Microgravity. Cosmic radiation. Psychological stress. Unearthly conditions at the ISS create a perfect storm of weakened immune system and strengthened bacteria, that can put its crew at risk.

Spaceflight - Bacteria - Pathogens - Study - Author

"Spaceflight can turn harmless bacteria into potential pathogens," says senior study author Prof. Elisabeth Grohmann of Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin. "Just as stress hormones leave astronauts vulnerable to infection, the bacteria they carry become hardier—developing thick protective coatings and resistance to antibiotics—and more vigorous, multiplying and metabolizing faster."

To make matters worse, the genes responsible for these new traits can be readily shared among different species of bacteria, via direct contact or in the 'matrix' of slime they secrete—creating new bad guys, Agent Smith-style.

Problem - Grohmann - Colleagues - Coating - AGXX

To address this problem, Grohmann and colleagues tested a new antimicrobial coating, AGXX, on a contamination-prone surface aboard the ISS: the toilet door.

"AGXX contains both silver and ruthenium, conditioned by a vitamin derivative, and it kills all kinds of bacteria as well as certain fungi, yeasts and viruses. The effects are similar to bleach—except the coating is self-regenerating so it never gets used...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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