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Bacteria! The very thought of the word puts fear into your heart. Can it be deadly? Can it cause devastating infections?
These are precisely the questions astronauts were asking themselves when they discovered a strange strain of bacteria in their water dispenser in the International Space Station (ISS). It is safe to say you don't want to discover new bacteria anywhere, let alone in the isolated environment of space.
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No more dangerous than Earth strain
Indeed, the ISS being such a small confined space can be a very dangerous place for bacteria to get a hold of. Luckily, further research, published in PLOS ONE, proved that the bacteria found were no more dangerous than Earth strains.
The two types of bacteria, known as Burkholderia Cepacia and Burkholderia Contaminans, may cause periodic lung infections, but nothing further than that. The bacteria are notoriously hard to kill using common sterilization techniques and have continued to exist in the ISS' water supply despite periodic flushing with an iodine cleaning solution.
Researchers sequenced the genomes of the bacteria and found them to be descending from bacteria that was likely there on Earth when the water left the planet. Should they cause an infection, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. "All ISS-derived isolates exhibited antibiotic sensitivity similar to that of the terrestrial reference strains, and minimal differences between isolates were observed," wrote the researchers in their paper.
Nothing to worry about
All is well that ends well, and the researchers found that the bacteria were overall nothing to worry about. "Overall, we find that while the populations of Burkholderia present in the ISS PWS each maintain virulence, they are likely are not more virulent than those that might be encountered on the planet and remain susceptible to clinically used antibiotics," concluded the researchers.
Although we are happy there are no mutated bacteria circulating up in space, the thought of any kind of bacteria in water supply still sends shivers down our spines.