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NASA is Concerned Over The Strains of Toilet Microbes on ISS

Using computer analyses, they predicted a 79 per cent probability that they may potentially cause disease

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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

NASA is concerned over the strains of the bacterium Enterobacter, identified on the toilets of the International Space Station’s (ISS), which can raise potential health implications for future missions, say Indian-origin scientists at the US space agency.

Five strains of ‘Enterobacter’ bacterium isolated from the space toilet and the exercise platform on the ISS in March 2015 were investigated in a study led by a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), US.

Genome sequencing of the samples revealed that all five strains belonged to a single species, Enterobacter bugandensis (E.bugandensis).

While these were not pathogenic to humans, E.bugandensis was linked to disease in neonates and a compromised patient, who were admitted to three different hospitals (in east Africa, Washington state and Colorado), the researchers said.

“Given the multi-drug resistance results for these ISS E.bugandensis genomes and the increased chance of pathogenicity we have identified, these species potentially pose important health considerations for future missions,” said lead author Nitin Singh from NASA-JPL Caltech.

“However, it is important to understand that the strains found on the ISS were not virulent, which means they are not an active threat to human health, but something to be monitored,” he added.

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Genome sequencing of the samples revealed that all five strains belonged to a single species, Enterobacter bugandensis (E.bugandensis). Flcikr

For the study, published in the journal BMC Microbiology, the team compared the ISS strains to all publicly available genomes of 1,291 Enterobacter strains collected on Earth.

They found that the ISS isolates had similar antimicrobial resistance patterns to the three clinical strains found on Earth and that they included 112 genes involved in virulence, disease and defence.

Using computer analyses, they predicted a 79 per cent probability that they may potentially cause disease.

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“Whether or not an opportunistic pathogen like E.bugandensis causes disease and how much of a threat it is, depends on a variety of factors, including environmental ones,” said Kasthuri Venkateswaran, Senior Research Scientist at the JPL.

“Further in vivo studies are needed to discern the impact that conditions on the ISS, such as microgravity, other space, and spacecraft-related factors, may have on pathogenicity and virulence,” he noted. (IANS)

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Spacecraft Test Runs into Serious Problems, Smoke All Over SpaceX in Florida

"Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting (issues) like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test"

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Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. Pixabay

Thick plumes of smoke rose over a SpaceX facility in Florida during a test fire of a Crew Dragon spacecraft and the issue was serious, it could derail plans to fly astronauts aboard the capsule later this year, the media reported.

SpaceX, which was founded by billionaire businessman Elon Musk in 2002, said the craft was undergoing a “series of engine tests” at a facility in Cape Canaveral on Saturday, and something went wrong during the final stretch, CNN reported.

SpaceX will work with NASA to determine what caused the issue. No injuries were reported.

orbit
The US has not had the technology to fly humans to orbit since the space shuttle programme ended in 2011. Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russia about $80 million per seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz capsules. Pixabay

“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting (issues) like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test,” SpaceX said in a statement.

Crew Dragon is already overdue and more delays could make things tricky for NASA.

It was scheduled to conduct a key test of its emergency abort system in June. And its first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, was slated for July, though NASA recently said that timeline was under review.

space craft
Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. Pixabay

The US has not had the technology to fly humans to orbit since the space shuttle programme ended in 2011. Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russia about $80 million per seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz capsules.

NASA has also decided to ask the private sector to design and build a new generation of spacecrafts.

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SpaceX and Boeing, which is building a vehicle called Starliner, were awarded contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, in 2014. Both capsules were supposed to start flying in 2017, but they have been hampered with delays.

Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. (IANS)