Astronauts on-board the International Space Station should be frightened and/or excited that they've found a new "shape-shifting" bacteria on-board the floating technology fortress.
The "clever shape-shifting" was detected in bacteria that was being experimented on in the near-weightlessness of space, something that scientists believe the bacteria was doing to survive. In what feels like as a scenario ripped right out of a movie 'Life' with Ryan Reynolds (trailer below), the space bacteria showed a 13x increase in cell numbers, and a 73% reduction in cell column size.
The study's lead author, Dr Luis Zea, explains: "We knew bacteria behave differently in space and that it takes higher concentrations of antibiotics to kill them. What's new is that we conducted a systematic analysis of the changing physical appearance of the bacteria during the experiments".
Dr Zea published his findings in the Frontiers of Microbiology, describing how bacteria operates when they're not slowed down by "gravity-driven forces such as buoyancy and sedimentation", reports Sky News. Dr Zea said that the only way the bacteria on the ISS could ingest nutrients or drugs was through natural diffusion. The bacteria cell surface decreasing in space means the rate of the molecule-cell interaction also decreased.
The findings of this will affect how astronauts deal with bacterial infections in zero gravity, with the study also finding the bacterial cell envelope - which is the cell wall and outer membrane, actually thickened in space, protecting the E coli from the antibiotic.
At first, Dr Zea thought that the bacteria forming into clumps was the result of a defensive mechanism of the bacteria, which could involve outer cells protecting the inner cells from antibiotics. But the study noted that some of the bacterial cells were seen producing membrane vesicles, small capsules that form outside of the cell walls and will be messenger-like cells to communicate with one another. Uh... that is incredible.
Dr Zea noted: "Both the increase in cell envelope thickness and in the outer membrane vesicles may be indicative of drug resistance mechanisms being activated in the space flight samples. This experiment and others like it give us the opportunity to better understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics here on Earth".