Attack of the Killer Space Bacteria from Space!

Salmonella carried on shuttle mission returned three times more potent than its Earth-bound cousin, reports a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers, who worked with astronauts on Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-115, say that their work may one day lead to a vaccine to protect against Salmonella typhimurium, or a new antibiotic to keep an infection in check in space and on Earth.

Interesting information, especially given the brief Andromeda Strain-like fears triggered by the impact of a meteor in a remote area of Peru last week. The incident caused considerable alarm, with about 200 local people reporting strange sicknesses and a foul odour emitting from the crater. Turns out it wasn’t alien space bugs, just *ahem* bad gas.

Though the exact reason for the increased toxicity in the salmonella isn’t clear, the scientists think it might have something to do with the way fluids flow (called “fluid shear”) over the outer membranes of bacteria differently in low gravity. Fluid flows over bacteria in different ways in the human body as well and though scientists don’t know what impact this has, this study suggests it might be important to find out.

One of the nastier facts from the Globe & Mail‘s coverage: Getting a “cold” in space is difficult to handle, especially because the nose can’t drain in microgravity, resulting in the sinuses filling with more and more fluid.

And here I thought sneezing in your space helmet would be the biggest worry. Yick!

– S.