Science Daily — When space shuttle Endeavour recently rocketed into space, it took along a common microorganism normally found in the upper respiratory tract of approximately 40 percent of the healthy human population.
The experiment, Streptococcus pneumoniae Expression of Genes in Space (SPEGIS), part of the STS-118 space shuttle mission launched Aug. 8, 2007, will investigate the effects of the space environment on the common microorganism Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae). Scientists believe that sending this bacterium into space may lead to a better understanding of S. pneumoniae, an opportunistic human pathogen, which causes infections in individuals with reduced immune function. This bacterial pathogen is the most common cause of pneumonia, middle ear infections and bacterial meningitis.
“The opportunity to investigate and understand the effects of spaceflight on the pathogenic potential of S. pneumoniae may further the design and development of new drugs that can be used for treatment of diseases on Earth,” said Hami Teal, the experiment’s project scientist and a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Vials containing bacterial cultures were loaded aboard space shuttle Endeavor in SPEGIS Canister Assemblies developed by NASA. The hardware consists of three canisters, each containing three sealed polypropylene vials inserted into aluminum jackets to improve contact and enhance thermal transfer. The SPEGIS experiment only requires transfer of the canisters from refrigeration to incubation and then to a freezer to preserve the sample. The SPEGIS experiment will be returned to Earth for analysis by scientists. Since the SPEGIS Canisters are triple-contained and never opened, the crew is never in direct contact with the bacterial cultures.
“We expect the SPEGIS experiment will provide important new information about how microbes adapt to microgravity and the spacecraft environment. These results will lead to a better understanding of these organisms on a molecular level and how their ability to interact with humans may be altered,” said David W. Niesel, the project’s principal investigator and professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by NASA, Ames Research Center.
Ames scientist demonstrate loading bacteria into vials. (Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart)Fausto Intilla's web site: