Friday 19 June 2020

Terrestrial bacteria can grow on nutrients from space

For this study, four non-fastidious environment-derived bacterial species with pathogenic features were selected, including Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. A minimal 'diet' based on nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, iron and water to which carbohydrates found in carbonaceous meteorites were added was made to determine whether extraterrestrial survival and growth were possible. The four bacterial species were shown to survive and multiply on this minimal 'diet'.

In follow-up experiments, the team of researchers observed that the adaptation of bacteria, especially in the case of K. pneumoniae, caused changes in the cell membrane -- the shell of the cell -- as a result of which the immune system reacted more strongly to the bacteria. In short, the bacteria become more immunogenic. Research in cell culture, but also in mice, showed that the bacteria survive on extra-terrestrial nutrients and become less virulent as a result of this necessary adaptation. At the same time, this research shows that bacteria can survive under these conditions, which means that the risk of infection among space travellers remains, precisely because -- as other researchers have shown -- a space journey has negative effects on the functioning of the immune system, making astronauts more susceptible to infections.


Jorge Domínguez-Andrés, Marc Eleveld, Georgios Renieris, Thomas J. Boltje, Rob J. Mesman, Laura van Niftrik, Sam J. Moons, Petra Rettberg, Jos W.M. van der Meer, Evangelos J. Giamarellos-Bourboulis, Huub J.M. Op den Camp, Marien I. de Jonge, Mihai G. Netea. Growth on Carbohydrates from Carbonaceous Meteorites Alters the Immunogenicity of Environment-Derived Bacterial Pathogens. Astrobiology, 2020; DOI: 10.1089/ast.2019.2173

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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