'Shape-shifting' bacteria spotted in space


The way bacteria act in near-zero gravity environments could pose a serious problem for treating astronauts with infections.
“We knew bacteria behave differently in space and that it takes higher concentrations of antibiotics to kill them,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Luis Zea.
The paper, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, describes how bacteria operate when they do not have any gravity-driven forces such as buoyancy and sedimentation.
Dr Zea said that this means the only way the ISS bacteria could ingest nutrients or drugs was through natural diffusion.
Image:E. coli is found in the gut and faecal matter of many animals
In space the bacteria also tended to form in clumps, which Dr Zea thought was perhaps a defensive manoeuvre, which could involve outer cells protecting the inner cells from antibiotics.
Some of the bacterial cells were also spotted producing membrane vesicles, small capsules that form outside of the cell walls and act as messengers for cells to communicate with each other.
“Both the increase in cell envelope thickness and in the outer membrane vesicles may be indicative of drug resistance mechanisms being activated in the space flight samples,” said Dr Zea.
“This experiment and others like it give us the opportunity to better understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics here on Earth.”
Bacterial cells treated with a common antibiotic have been spotted changing shape to survive while aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
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