IIT Madras, NASA researchers study multidrug resistant pathogens on international space station

Study could improve understanding of microbial ecology and adaptation, say researchers

Published - June 10, 2024 08:24 pm IST - CHENNAI 

A view of the International space station

A view of the International space station | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Researchers of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are studying multi-drug resistant pathogens on the international space station (ISS). 

The researchers studied the Enterobactor bugandensis, a nosocomial pathogen found on the surfaces within the ISS. An understanding of the microbial landscape on the IIS would help to assess the impact of the micro-organisms on astronauts’ well-being. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Microbiome.  

The researchers say their findings hold promise for applications in controlled settings on earth, including in intensive care units and operation theatres in hospitals, where too, multidrug resistant pathogens pose significant challenges to patient care.  

Karthik Raman, professor in Data Science and AI, Wadhwani School of Data Science and AI, Kasthuri Venkateswaran, senior research scientist at JPL, NASA, besides research scholars from both institutions are involved in the research. Science and Engineering Research Board and the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship from the Union Education Ministry are funding the work. 

The study explained the evolution of key genes and their responses to stressors inherent to the space environment. The researchers uncovered a complex web of interactions between E. bugandensis and other microorganisms aboard ISS, highlighting the parasitic and symbiotic relationships that influence microbial growth dynamics. 

By mapping the prevalence and distribution of the pathogen the study offers insight into its persistence, succession and potential colonisation patterns in space. The study would help to develop strategies to manage microbial contamination in closed environments like spacecraft and hospitals. The methods used in the study could be applied to study microbial dynamics in other extreme environments, improving our understanding of microbial ecology and adaptation, the researchers said.

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