Human presence in space, whether permanent or temporary, is accompanied by the presence of microbes. However, the extent of microbial changes in response to spaceflight conditions and the corresponding changes to infectious disease risk is unclear. Previous studies have indicated that spaceflight weakens the immune system in humans and animals. In addition, preflight and in-flight monitoring of the International Space Station (ISS) and other spacecraft indicates the presence of opportunistic pathogens and the potential of obligate pathogens. Altered antibiotic resistance of microbes in flight has also been shown. As astronauts and cosmonauts live for longer periods in a closed environment, especially one using recycled water and air, there is an increased risk to crewmembers of infectious disease events occurring in-flight. Therefore, understanding how the space environment affects microorganisms and their disease potential is critically important for spaceflight missions and requires further study. The goal of this flight experiment, operationally called MICROBE, is to utilize three model microbial pathogens, Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Candida albicans to examine the global effects of spaceflight on microbial gene expression and virulence attributes. Specifically, the aims are (1) to perform microarray-mediated gene expression profiling of S. typhimurium, P. aeruginosa, and C. albicans, in response to spaceflight in comparison to ground controls and (2) to determine the effect of spaceflight on the virulence potential of these microorganisms immediately following their return from spaceflight using murine models. The model microorganisms were selected as they have been isolated from preflight or in-flight monitoring, represent different degrees of pathogenic behavior, are well characterized, and have sequenced genomes with available microarrays. In particular, extensive studies of S. typhimurium by the Principal Investigator, Dr. Nickerson, using ground-based analog systems demonstrate important changes in the genotypic, phenotypic, and virulence characteristics of this pathogen resulting from exposure to a flight-like environment (i.e. modeled microgravity).
NASA HRP Investigators'' Workshop; 12-14 Feb. 2007; United States