Antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on the ISS – they have been there for at least two years


That the ISS is full of germs is not, to be honest, very surprising. But some of them are very immune to antibiotics, and that's worrying.

The International Space Station may sound clean but actually crawls with microbes. JPL-NASA scientists report identifying several strains of Enterobacter in samples collected from the toilet and space training area of ​​the space station. Enterobacter is best known for infecting patients with weakened immune systems in hospitals, and is very resistant to antibiotics.


Fortunately, the strains identified on the ISS are not pathogenic (they do not infect) humans. And, even though it's almost impossible to have humans without bacteria – we trace our own microbiomes wherever we go – just finding the Enterobacter strain at the station is quite alarming.

This genus is famous for that prey on in immunocompromised patients on Earth; it's also famous for its ridiculous resistance to antibiotics. Space (forgive torn) an environment of this world. There is more radiation, almost no gravity, there are humans everywhere, crammed into tubes with lots of carbon dioxide. All these obstacles can change how microbes live and breed – these changes, can, in turn, cause them to become pathogens for humans.

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NASA employs quite a number of microbiologists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who regularly analyze microbial samples sent from the ISS to see whether space changes their population or habits. Microbiologists also oversee the potential for biological hazards for the equipment or health of astronauts. This is the first time they identified an antibiotic-resistant Enterobacter strain at the station.

"To show which bacterial species are on the ISS, we use various methods to characterize their genes in detail. "We revealed that the genome of five strains of Enterobacter ISS is genetically most similar to the three newly discovered strains on Earth," he explained. micro biology Kasthuri Venkateswaran.

"These three strains include one species of bacteria, which is called Enterobacter bugandensis, which has been found to cause illness in neonates and compromised patients, who were treated at three different hospitals (in East Africa, the states of Washington and Colorado). "

Samples were collected in 2015. Because no astronaut has been beaten since then, insects do not appear to be a direct threat. However, the team said this situation could quickly change – and that would be bad. Space-transmitted enterobacter is found to be resistant to various antibiotics, and is almost completely immune to cefazolin, cefoxitin, oxacillin, penicillin, and rifampin.

Enterobacter cloacae.

Enterobacter cloacae.
Credit image of CDC Public Health Image Library (PHIL # 6552).

Strains also share 112 genes with clinical strains, related to virulence, disease, and defense. The team reports that computer models show a 79% chance that space strains will develop human pathogens and cause disease.

But now, the astronauts are safe. The possibility, however alarming, has not been tested in living organisms. So the team worked to better understand the situation and develop response procedures (which they hoped were never used) against these bacteria.

"Whether an opportunistic pathogen such as E. bugandensis causes disease and how big the threat is, depends on various factors, including environmental factors," Venkateswaran said. "Further in vivo research is needed to distinguish the impact that conditions on ISS, such as microgravity, other spaces, and space-related factors, may have pathogenicity and virulence."

The paper "Species that are resistant to the Enterobacter bugandensis bacteria isolated from the International Space Station and comparative genomic analysis with human pathogenic strains" have been published in the journal BMC Microbiology.

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