Chennai: Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researchers are studying multi-drug resistant pathogens on the International Space Station (ISS), which could have key applications for astronauts health as well on earth.

The researchers conducted a comprehensive study to understand the genomic, functional, and metabolic enhancements observed in multidrug-resistant pathogens, with a particular focus on Enterobacter bugandensis, a prevalent nosocomial pathogen found on surfaces within the ISS.

Astronauts operating in altered immune conditions with limited access to traditional medical facilities face unique health challenges during space missions. Understanding the microbial landscape aboard the ISS is paramount for assessing the impact of these microorganisms on astronaut well-being.

The current study emphasises the critical need to investigate the pathogenic potential of microorganisms in space environments to safeguard astronaut health and mitigate the risks associated with opportunistic pathogens.

The collaborative efforts between IIT Madras and NASA’s JPL underscore the importance of international partnerships in advancing scientific knowledge and addressing the challenges of space exploration. The research has been published in the journal Microbiome. The research represents a significant advancement in understanding microbial dynamics in confined environments.

The findings hold promise for applications in controlled settings on Earth, including hospital intensive care units and surgical theatres, where multidrug-resistant pathogens pose significant challenges to patient care.

The research was undertaken by Prof Karthik Raman, Department of Data Science and AI, Wadhwani School of Data Science and AI (WSAI), Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Senior Research Scientist, JPL, NASA, Pratyay Sengupta, Shobhan Karthick MS, Research Scholars, IIT Madras and Nitin Kumar Singh from JPL, NASA. This work was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board, and the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship from the Ministry of Education to Sengupta.

Commenting on the need for such research, Prof Raman said, “Microbes continue to puzzle us by growing in the most challenging conditions – studies such as these serve to help us unravel the complex web of interactions underlying microbial growth and survival in such unique environments.”

Emphasising the broader implications of the research, Dr Venkateswaran said, “Our research uncovers the microbial community interactions of how certain benign microorganisms help to adapt and survive opportunistic human pathogen, E bugandensis, in the unfavourable conditions of the International Space Station. The knowledge gained from this study would shed light on microbial behaviour, adaptation, and evolution in extreme, isolated environments that allow in designing novel countermeasure strategies to eradicate opportunistic pathogens, thus protecting the health of astronauts.”

The research team identified detailed genomic features and potential antimicrobial resistance mechanisms within E bugandensis strains isolated from various locations within the ISS.

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

By mapping the prevalence and distribution of E bugandensis over time, the study provides valuable insights into its persistence, succession, and potential colonisation patterns in space.

Some of the key real-world applications of the research include understanding the genomic adaptations of multidrug-resistant E bugandensis can aid in developing targeted antimicrobial treatments. The insights into the persistence and succession patterns of E bugandensis in space can inform strategies for managing microbial contamination in closed environments like spacecraft and hospitals.

The methodology used in the study, integrating genomics, metagenomics, and metabolic modelling, can be applied to study microbial dynamics in other extreme environments, potentially improving understanding of microbial ecology and adaptation.

  • Published On Jun 10, 2024 at 04:13 PM IST

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