On Valentine’s Day, SpaceX will launch a lethal pathogen into low-Earth orbit. This superbug kills more Americans every year than HIV, Parkinson’s, emphysema and homicides combined.
But this launch is for the greater good, as you’d assume. They’re sending two strains of the MRSA bacteria to the ISS where they will be subjected to microgravity, with the hope that their behavior can be used to develop models that can predict their mutation to ultimately stay a step ahead of the superbug and potentially alter the future of medicine on Earth.
Previous research conducted by NASA has shown that a microgravity environment accelerates growth and mutation. Proteins in the microbes become hyperactive and in combination with the low radiation levels in space, certain genes behavior can be altered.
The long research proved that after a 40 day flight in space the bacteria samples mutated 2 to 3 times more than on Earth.
MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is extremely difficult to fight, as it is rapidly becoming resistant to the current antibiotics. This means that patients with weakened immune systems, infected wounds are at a higher risk of complications and death.
The ISS crew will monitor the samples with the help of a Gene-RADAR – the groundbreaking nanotechnology platform which allows for real-time diagnosis of infectious diseases by detecting the genetic fingerprints from ‘any biological organism.’
It all may sound a bit sci-fi at the moment but this revolutionary approach will allow scientists to study the effects of this unusual environment on the bacterium, with potential to pave the way for more effective treatments.