“Shapeshifting” Bacteria Found On International Space Station


Ha ha ha, no no no: obviously, we’re not talking about something on the level of Lovecraftian horror as John Carpenter’s The Thing. (Yet?)

But what we have is bacteria on the International Space Station that have reacted to antibiotics by “clever shape-shifting” as to survive the attack. The discovery was made during recent experiments to see the impact of zero-gravity on said bacteria, and the results are not hopeful in terms of trying to treat infections and whatnot in space.

Bacteria has already been documented as changing in response to antibiotics—hence the problem of “antibiotic resistance”—but apparently without the effects of gravity this phenomenon massively increases. Frontiers in Microbiology, who published the findings aboard the ISS, reported that the space bacteria demonstrated a 13-fold increase in cell numbers and a 73% reduction in cell column size—rapidly changing in response to the antibiotics.

Noted the lead researcher:

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.

This would conceivably make it harder to treat space travelers with standard antibiotics. But it also underlines how much we still don’t know about the impact of space on a number of things. I mean, there’s still the issue of possible “Interplanetary Contamination” between particles and whatnot from space to Earth & vice-versa.

This all doesn’t mean we don’t continue to move forward in space exploration and experimentation. But it is just to say: there are most likely more revelations to come.