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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Microbes Rule!

How many of you know what happens to the human body when it's subjected to the weightlessness of high Earth orbit? Well, to put it simply, the body actually starts to whither. It's not a quick process, and certainly not one that would prevent us from shipping people long distances in the solar system, but there is a noticeable effect on the immune system when astronauts return to Earth after a considerable stint in space. It's similar to AIDS. Your body has cells called T-cells, which have these little receptors whose job it is to basically tell other cells there is an infection in that particular cell. When someone is infected with AIDS, those receptors stop working. This is permanent in AIDS, obviously. So, when the body gets a cold, the cells don't know how to fight it because it seems to be replicating itself at such an alarming rate, which is true. Your body is no longer fighting the infection, basically.
Now, being in space is much the same, except that the effects don't remain when someone returns to normal gravity--as far as we know at least, considering we haven't exactly stuck someone up there for fifteen years to see what happens. So, your immune system weakens, those little T-cells and their receptors shut off, and your body becomes a happy breeding ground for all the little bacterium and microbes that float around in our air and make homes in our bodies.
This is where a new report from Universe Today comes in. Apparently bacteria--such as salmonella, which was used in this experiment--actually become more dangerous after spending considerable time in space. Astronauts took with them a group of salmonella filled containers with nutrients for the bacteria. What they discovered upon return to the ground was that the bacteria had changed expression in 167 of its genes and become three times more likely to infect. That's surprising when you think about it. Imagine having that floating freely in a space ship with a group of people who are immuno-depressed!
Scientists think it isn't directly related to the zero-gravity, not like it is in us humans, but it is indirectly related to it. They believe it has more to do with the movement of fluids, which on Earth is very low, but in space is probably considerably more active. Now that's some interesting news, eh?

Edit: I changed the phrase "altered 167 of its genes" because it was brought to my attention that that phrase may be confused with mutation, when that was not the meaning I was intending.

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6 comments:

  1. My answer to that:

    Meh.

    How long were the bacteria in space? I can't imagine they purposely evolved to become more infectious up there--since they weren't inside a human at the time, there'd be no selection pressure, so it's probably more like luck. I just looked 24 hours of growth ... that's approximately 72 growth cycles (no wait, I don't know how fast Salmonella reproduce, so scratch that).

    Aaaaaaand I'm going to pick this apart later when I have time and the stupid website will let me access the paper. *Glare* It's interesting, anyway.

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  2. It's new information. So they don't have all the answers. They're not really sure why it changed. Most of it is guesses, all they know is that the bacteria DID become more infectious. The article explains that the bacteria were kept in containers with "food". Whatever the reason for it, it's crazy! There was a story I wrote a while ago that involved introducing bacteria and virus' into a space station to keep the immune systems of the inhabitants strong and current with Earth standards. This research is changing all of that now...

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  3. *Sobs*

    It's 'viruses', Shaun!

    Anyway, what an ASTONISHINGLY accurate post! You must have had expert advice. :D

    If you can access the paper here: www.pnas.org.cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0707 download it for me, will ya? I'd really like to read it. I could also find out what the "food" was. ;p

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  4. Oh hush with your darned correction. Everyone else knows what I'm talking about.

    And I still wasn't wrong, you just took it from a far too scientific approach Missy. If you think of it from a non-science approach, which the article was written in, you wouldn't think much about how it was originally written. Calm down :P

    And I'll spell viruses any way I want. Since virus' also happens to be correct according to Google, and since Google is far more accurate than MS Word, I'll leave it as it :P

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  5. You shouldn't dumb things down for the masses!!!!! Yeesh.

    Yes, my blood pressure did just shoot up. :p

    And virus' means something belonging to a virus!!!!!!! You're a writer, you know this! And if you think I got the 'viruses' spelling from Word, then you, my friend, are cruelly underestimating me. I'm far more accurate than either Word or Google, and in this field you can't hope to defeat me without two and a half years of study. *Sticks tongue out*

    And on that note, I shall maturely withdraw from this ...

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  6. Well if we want to get really technical, the plural of virus is virii...but, yeah, nobody really uses that cause it's 'too' latin.

    You seriously gotta calm down over minor things lady :P

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