Antibiotic resistance in bacteria from space

The genes involved in antimicrobial resistance have been examined for the first time from the ISS.

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It has previously been shown that bacteria isolated from the Interaction Space Station (ISS) are more resistant to antibiotics than bacteria from the Antarctic Research Station Concordia.

Now, using a combination of traditional and state-of the-art molecular techniques, anti-microbial resistant genes have been detected in bacteria directly from the ISS for the first time.

A total of 24 samples were taken from eight locations, including the dining table and the foot platform of an exercise device, and tested for resistance to several antibiotics.

Disc diffusion assays showed that Enterobacter bugandensis strains (a novel species isolated from the ISS) were resistant to all antibiotics tested and Staphylococcus haemolyticus (an important pathogen in hospital-acquired infections) was resistant to none, and genomic analysis revealed that out of 518 known antibiotic resistant genes, 123 of these were found in the ISS bacterial samples.     

These results are consistent with previous work, but this study is the first to identify anti-microbial resistant genes on the ISS without culturing the samples first – the DNA was isolated directly from ISS bacteria.   

This research was published in Scientific Reports and is important for the development of antibiotic resistance strategies on Earth and in space, particularly for long duration spaceflight missions.  

Poster image: SEM image showing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria (magenta) being eaten by a neutrophil (blue). Image courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

Ruth Milne

Past Springer Nature Staff Member, Springer Nature